I was actually a little bit shocked when I read an article about the introduction of solid foods to infants. According to a new study from the US, nine percent of parents are feeding their children solid food when they’re as young as four weeks of age! I knew that many parents weren’t following the current guidelines, which recommend waiting until six months of age to introduce solid food. Previous guidelines recommended 4-6 months of age and advised parents to watch for cues that their child was ready to begin on solid food. Many health care practitioners, unfortunately, have been slow to adopt the newest recommendations so it’s understandable that parents are confused.
I think that parents might be more accepting of the guidelines if they knew the reasoning behind them. It’s one thing to tell someone what to do. It’s another all together to give them a valid reason regarding why they should do it. There are many reasons why parents start their children on solid foods before they’re 6 months of age: lack of time for breastfeeding (if maternity leave is over and your workplace isn’t accommodating, pumping all that milk is quite a commitment), lack of money for formula, the misguided notion that it’s a developmental milestone (like walking and talking) and a child starting solid food at four months is “more advanced” than a child starting at six, the also erroneous belief that it will help the baby to sleep through the night.
The current guidelines were developed based on nutrient needs of infants and their digestive systems. Breastmilk is a highly nutritious food for babies (not to mention the benefits of maternal and infant bonding provided by breastfeeding). Weaning infants too soon deprives them of that free source of nutrients and energy. Breastfeeding is protective against gastroenteristis and respiratory infections during infancy and may have longer-lasting protective benefits. In turn, introducing solid food too early may be detrimental to their developing digestive systems.
The risks and benefits of introducing solid foods to babies should be clearly outlined to new parents by their healthcare providers so that they can make the best choices that they’re able to for their children.