Most parents are feeding their babies solid foods too early – raising their risk of obesity and diabetes, according to new research.
The study showed that more than half of infants start eating solids before the recommended six months and only a third of babies are introduced at the right time.
Previous research has shown that babies who are have solid foods too early are more likely to be overweight and develop chronic diseases such as diabetes and celiac disease.
The study of nearly 1,500 babies across the United States (US) is the first of its kind, emphasizing the need for babies to be given solid foods at the proper time, according to health experts.
The study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed six years of data from the detailed National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
Researchers assessed the food intake of 1,482 children aged six to 36 months which were gathered during household interviews with parents and guardians.
The survey asked how old infants were when they were first fed anything other than breast milk or formula. This included juice, cow’s milk, water, baby food or anything else that the infant might have been given.
It found only 32.5 percent of babies were introduced to complementary foods at the recommended time.
The findings published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed that 16.3 percent were started before four months and 38.3 percent at four to five months.
Dr. Chloe Barrera, a nutritionist at the CDC said: ‘Introducing babies to complementary foods too early can cause them to miss out on important nutrients that come from breast milk and infant formula.’
One in eight parents introduced their babies to solid food too late, at seven months or more.Barrera added: “Conversely, introducing them to complementary foods too late has been associated with micronutrient deficiencies, allergies and poorer diets later in life.”
Researchers said their findings help understand the current state of infant feeding practices in the US.
Further investigation found babies who were never breastfed or breastfed for less than four months were most likely to be given the foods too soon. Human milk provides all the nutrients, including iron, that babies need for the first six months of life.
However, once the iron stored during pregnancy is used up at about 6 months of age, iron-rich foods such as meats or iron-fortified cereals need to be added to the baby’s diet.
Over the last 60 years recommendations for when to introduce solid foods have changed dramatically.
The 1958 guidelines suggested solid foods in the third month, the 1970s brought a delay until after four months and the 1990s pushed the introduction out to six months. These changes have influenced past studies of infant nutrition, most of which show a general lack of adherence to current professional guidelines.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are currently developing the first federal dietary guidelines for children under two years, to be released in 2020.
Barrera said: “Efforts to support caregivers, families and healthcare providers may be needed to ensure US children are achieving recommendations on the timing of food introduction.
“Inclusion of children under two in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans may promote consistent messaging of when children should be introduced to complementary foods.”
Signs that your baby is ready for solid foods include the ability to sit up with little support, the ability to hold its head up, the development of motor skills to pick up soft foods and the ability to put them in its mouth.