American Parents Are Feeding Babies Solid Foods Too Early

When it comes to being a new parent, one major thing is on your mind; developmental milestones.

Successfully getting a newborn to breastfeed or take formula is one of the first big steps and, after that, getting that baby onto solid foods.

While it may seem that the earlier you get your child onto solid foods the better, a new study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests otherwise.

You've done it! You successfully got your baby to start breastfeeding or taking formula.

The importance of this dietary phase is hard to state. The nutrients found in breast milk and formula are crucial to a baby's development. Breast milk includes important antibodies and enzymes that help protect baby from new germs and formula is designed to mimic the nutritional profile of breast milk as much as possible.

After all, a mother's milk is designed to perfectly meet all of baby's dietary needs after birth.

You may be surprised to hear that a significant percentage of parents in the United States start feeding their children at different times. Some far too early and some too late.

Unsplash | Kaitlyn Horton

Large-scale studies tracking the diets of hundreds of infants have shed some light on just how much families vary with respect to introducing family foods to infants.

Over half of parents have been found to give their babies food other than breast milk or infant formula too early.

Unsplash | Viviana Rishe

In a comprehensive study that tracked the dietary behaviors of 1,482 U.S. infants between the ages of six to 36 months, a staggering 54.6% of babies were found to have been introduced to some food other than breast milk or formula.

So what at what age should a baby be introduced to new foods?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children do not consume complementary foods, anything other than formula or breast milk, until 6 months of age. This complementary feeding period can last, ideally, between 6 to 18-24 months of age.

The absolute earliest experts recommend introducing complementary foods to your baby's diet is 4 months.

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Interestingly, previous studies have shown that 20%-40% of parents introduce these foods even prior to this age, a full 2 months before the WHO recommends.

What's the best way to make the switch from breast milk and formula to complementary foods?

It is recommended that a gradual switch from breast milk and formula to other foods takes place. At 6 months of age, babies should be getting new foods 2-3 times a day in combination with breast milk or formula.

What's the next step?

Between 9-11 months of age, complementary foods should be given to a child roughly 3-4 times a day. The important thing is that this transition to family foods is gradual. It is best to avoid a sudden change in the daily nutrients a baby receives. Most parents use this phase to experiment with different puréed fruits and vegetables to see what baby actually likes. This can be a more difficult transition for some babies compared to others.

At 12 months, snacks should be introduced to supplement your growing child's needs.

Unsplash | Ben White

The WHO recommends that 1-2 healthy snacks should be added on top of the 3-4 meals introduced at 9 months. Your child is growing exponentially at this point, so their caloric intake is also skyrocketing.

Many parents begin complementary feeding too early, but it is also advised not to start too late.

After a certain age, breast milk and infant formula are not enough to meet your child's nutritional needs and feeding them new foods too late can contribute to micronutrient deficiency.

Don't stress! Children take to new foods differently and all you can do as a parent is to try your best to follow the recommended guidelines.

As a parent of three myself, I can say that each child had a slightly differently path toward a full complementary food diet. For more information on the recommended stages of introducing new foods to your baby, check out the WHO website.