Prevailing wisdom says to wait six months before introducing solid foods to your infant. Not only does this help delay ensure that their digestive tract is more mature and that they are able to swallow the thicker food, but it makes life a little easier, needing only a breast or bottle + formula to keep your child nourished. But some people love to jump the gun, thinking that a liquid diet isn’t enough or may not provide enough nutrition. Not only are they wrong, but they may be contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic.
According to an article published online today in the medical journal Pediatrics, bottle-fed children who begin solid foods too early have a higher chance of obesity by age three than either their breastfed counterparts or those who delay solid foods. The magic age to introduce solid foods and to lower the risk of obesity is four to six months of age.
Breastfeeding is considered to be the best start to every infant's life, and certainly one that requires no money, bottles or formula preparation. Interestingly enough, the study showed that with breastfed infants there was no association with the timing of solid-food introduction and obesity.
The ideal scenario is to breastfeed their infants exclusively for six months and give appropriate complimentary foods, and continue breastfeeding until one to two years of age. The health benefits for children include a reduced risk of respiratory illnesses, asthma, ear infections, stomach problems, as well as a decreased risk of diabetes and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But although 75% of new mothers start off with the best of intentions, many migrate from breast to bottle. And from there they migrate to solids, often earlier than is necessary.
The study followed 847 children from birth to three years. During the first four months, 67 percent of the infants were breastfed, while 32 percent were formula-fed. By the age of three, 9 percent were obese. Of the mothers who were breastfeeding their babies, only 8 percent began feeding their babies solids before age four months, while approximately 33 percent of the mothers who were feeding their babies formula began giving their babies solid food before four months Researchers found that the introduction of solid food before the age of four months in the formula-fed babies was associated with a six-fold increase in the odds of obesity by the age three.
“Among formula-fed infants or infants weaned before the age of 4 months, introduction of solid foods before the age of 4 months was associated with increased odds of obesity at age 3 years,” researchers concluded.Although the study was small, it does shed a possible light on the beginnings of some childhood obesity. While not everyone has the capability, desire, or presence to exclusively breastfeed, wisdom dictates waiting until at least four months, if not longer, to start on solid foods.
If you need help in introducing foods, you might check out Best Food for Your Baby & Toddler, by Jeannette L. Bessenger and Tracee Yablon-Brenner. This book provides nutrition basics from birth to three years of age, helps you decode baby food labels, and explains the diet requirements necessary for babies and toddlers. In addition, there are feeding guides by age and recipes for baby food, from finger foods to entrees to pasta and grains. There is also information for the vegetarian toddler, addressing the pros and the cons and how best to go about it, and for those who wish to use organic products.