Despite growing warnings from pediatricians about feeding newborns anything other than breast milk or formula, many mothers appear to be introducing solid food well before their babies’ bodies can handle it, says a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
In a national survey of 1,334 mothers, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% said they gave their baby solid food before they were 4 months old, with 9% starting as early as 4 weeks. Doctors now recommend waiting until a baby is at least 6 months old.
For at least 20 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics had advised against feeding babies solid food before they turned at least 4 months old. Last year, encouraged by growing evidence of the health benefits of breast milk, the group raised that age, saying babies should be fed nothing but breast milk for six months. When breast milk in not an option, formula is an acceptable alternative, the group says.
But the survey suggests that mothers are not aware of the recommendations or find them difficult to follow. Popular reasons for giving solid food to babies before 4 months included “my baby is old enough,” “my baby seemed hungry,” “I wanted my baby to sleep longer at night” and — most alarming to researchers — “a doctor or health care professional said my baby should begin eating solid food.”
“Clearly we need better dissemination of the recommendations on solid food introduction,” said Kelley Scanlon, an epidemiologist with the CDC and an author of the study. “Health care providers need to provide clear and accurate guidance, and then provide support to help parents carry out those recommended practices.”
The study suggested that economics were a factor in the decision to introduce solid food, with poorer women who saw formula as too expensive more likely to feed solids too soon. Women who were feeding their children exclusively formula or a mix of formula and breast milk were not only more likely to introduce solid food early, but to say their doctors gave them the go-ahead.
“It makes me want to know more about the other advice that those parents were getting on infant feeding,” Scanlon said.