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Are Moms Introducing Solids Too Early?

Starting solidsThere are a lot of things you question when you’re a brand spanking new first time mom. Before you walk in the door to the hospital to give birth, you think you have it all figured out. You know you’re going to breastfeed and babywear and never say “no” to your child. Or you’re going to formula feed and co-sleep and put your baby on a schedule from week one. Then a few hours later the nurse hands you a slimy, squishy, scrunch-faced newborn and all that nonsense goes out the window. Suddenly you realize you are actually responsible for this human life. The doctors truly trust you to go home and take care of this little living being. They send you home without even an inkling of instruction.

At first you flounder around in mild state of panic. Then something magical happens. You learn to trust your parenting instinct. You make decisions for your child with their best interest in mind. Sometimes it’s because someone told you to. Sometimes it’s because you read it in a book. And sometimes it’s just because you feel it’s right.

The hard part is when you stop being so sure of yourself. You think you’re doing the right thing, but it’s not going as planned. Then that doubt starts to creep back in. You question if you can really trust your “mom intuition” when you’ve only been a mom for a blink of an eye. I can’t count how many times that happened to me as we struggled through colic and a long battle with infant reflux.

Do you know how many people told me the answer to my non-stop screaming baby was cereal? A lot. Everyone. I was adamantly opposed. I wanted to wait until 6 months to start solids and I didn’t want to start with refined, nutrient-void cereal. I was met with a lot of opposition and constantly wondering if I was making the right decision.

It certainly makes me feel better for sticking to my guns when a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) led study was published in Pediatrics this month that confirmed introducing solids too early can cause health risks. Dr TJ Gold, a Brooklyn-based pediatrician, told the New York Times that introducing solid foods at an early age is associated with obesity, celiac disease, diabetes, and eczema. Part of this is due to the lack of development of healthy gut bacteria in the digestive system. Food that isn’t properly processed by the infant’s body can lead to gastroenteritis. Feeding solids before an infant is able to hold his or her head up and making chewing motions is also dangerous and can lead to choking. Past recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics have been to introduce solids between 4 and 6 months. This was changed to 6 months last year.

The CDC study examined what factors made parents choose to introduce solids before 4 months of age. Some of the most prevalent reasons included thinking the baby was hungry, wanting the baby to sleep through the night, and formula getting too expensive. These all seem like valid reasons given a family’s individual situation, so more education and clear guidance is needed from health professionals to help parents make the best decisions for their children.

As an Registered Dietitian, I firmly agree with waiting until 6 months to start solids. As a mom of child with food intolerances, things start to get murky when you consider the new recommendations for preventing food allergies.

It will be interesting to see where these types of studies continue to lead: is it better to wait until 6 months for proper gut development or is it better to introduce foods early in hopes of avoid food allergies? We’ll see.

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