When you have a newborn, of course, the focus is on doing the best you can, in every way. Healthy habits become easy to keep up with because it’s for the benefit of a baby. Many moms choose breastfeeding, which is the gold standard of nutrition, but eventually, babies need more.
The decision to introduce solid food can be difficult for new parents to navigate, but a new study might offer some help. Published recently in the journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the numbers show that many infants in the United States are introduced to solid food sooner than is recommended. Babies who are formula-fed were the most likely to be given cereal and baby food earlier than is ideal. The problem is that until recently the information on when to introduce solids has not been well defined.
Lead investigator of the most recent research, Chloe M. Barrera, MPH, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA stated, "Introducing babies to complementary foods too early can cause them to miss out on important nutrients that come from breast milk and infant formula. Conversely, introducing them to complementary foods too late has been associated with micronutrient deficiencies, allergies, and poorer diets later in life."
Solid food such as infant cereal, pureed fruits, and vegetables are called “complementary” food since they are designed to go along with breastmilk or formula. The current recommendations of pediatricians and other infant care professionals say that six months of age is about when babies should be introduced to these foods. In Barrera’s research, data from the 2009-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) was used to analyze the food intake of 1482 children aged six to 36 months. The data was obtained by interviews with parents and caregivers of children.
The results showed that 35.2% (roughly 1/3) of infants were given complementary foods at six months. The rest of the data showed that 16.3% of babies were introduced to complementary foods before four months, 38.3% at four-five months, and 12.9% at seven or more months of age. With over half of American infants being given solid food before the age of six months, there is a real concern about health issues later on in life.
It’s not an easy decision to make, however. The “ideal age” for starting solids keeps changing. In 1958, experts said three months of age was ideal. That changed in the 1970s to a recommended age of at least four months, which was upped again in the 1990s to six months. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services (USDA and HHS respectively) are currently working on issuing the first federal guidelines on infant nutrition, which will come out in the year 2020. In Barrera’s study, the authors write, “Efforts to support caregivers, families, and healthcare providers may be needed to ensure that U.S. children are achieving recommendations on the timing of food introduction. The inclusion of children under two in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans may promote consistent messaging of when children should be introduced to complementary foods.” For more information, check out the included video.