Many moms switch their babies to solid foods much earlier than they should.

The finding, published in Pediatrics, came from a new report by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) which showed that over 40% of parents were giving solid foods to their infants before they were 4 months old. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should not be introduced to solid foods until they are between the ages of 4 and 6 months.

Doctors have encouraged new mothers to breastfeed their infants exclusively until they are six months old, and when solid foods are introduced, they should continue with supplemental breastfeeding up until the children reach their first birthday.

According to the Academy, in most cases, children are ready for solid foods when they are 4 to 6 months old because:
  • they are able to hold their head up in a high chair
  • they can open their mouth for food
  • they weigh at least 13 pounds
A team of experts, led by Kelley Scanlon, an epidemiologist with the CDC, gathered and examined data from approximately 1,300 moms who started feeding solid foods to their babies during the first year. The participants were asked why they decided to make the switch.

Results showed that overall, 40.4% of moms gave their infants solid foods before 4 months, with the highest percentage among the babies who were fed formulas (52.7%) and the lowest among the breastfed kids (24.3%).

The most popular reasons for introducing solid foods before the suggested age included:
  • "My baby seemed hungry."
  • "My baby was old enough."
  • "It would help my baby sleep longer at night."
  • "I wanted to feed my baby something in addition to breast milk or formula."
  • "My baby wanted the food I ate."
  • "A doctor or other health care professional said my baby should begin eating solid food."
Although several of the moms reported that their health care provider said it was okay to do so, Scanlon explained, "We don't know actually what advice the health care provider gave. But at least this was the perception the parents got - that this was the time to begin solids."

The experts pointed out that many factors can have an impact on mothers' views about feeding their babies, such as friends and relatives. A previous study demonstrated that the opinions of family and friends appear to be the most important factor in whether low income mothers breastfeed.

Moms who switched their kids over to solid foods earlier than advised were more likely to be unmarried, younger, have a lower level of education, or be taking part in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program - a nutrition program that helps pregnant women, new moms, and young children eat well.

The experts said:

"Early introduction of solid foods is concerning because babies' bodies are not yet prepared for these foods, and early introduction may increase the risk of some chronic diseases. It can also mean that the many benefits of breastfeeding are cut short."

For example, a previous study indicated that babies fed only breast milk up to the age of 6 months are less likely to develop asthma-related symptoms in early childhood.

The scientists concluded that health experts can use this information to help mothers understand why they should stick to infant feeding suggestions.

Written by Sarah Glynn