HealthDay News — Many mothers in the U.S. introduce solid food to their infants earlier than experts recommend, and many with the support of their doctor, study findings indicate.
About 40% of U.S. mothers interviewed from 2005 to 2007 as part of the longitudinal Infant Feeding Practices Study II started their child on solid food before the recommended age 4 months, Heather Clayton, PhD, MPH, of the CDC in Atlanta, and colleagues reported in Pediatrics.
This represents a 29% increase from earlier studies, according to the researchers. Introducing solids early may increase the risk of some chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity, eczema and celiac disease.
Mothers reported introducing solid foods early for reasons including feeling that their baby was old enough or seemed hungry. More than half of the mothers (55%) cited a doctor’s advice as one of the reasons for introducing solids before 4 months.
Solid foods included dairy such as yogurt, soy foods such as tofu, infant cereals and starches, fruits and vegetables, french fries, meat and chicken, fish, peanut butter or nuts, and sweets.
“With multiple sources of information on infant feeding and care from healthcare providers, family, friends and media, specific information on the timing of solid food introduction may be conflicting and not necessarily sensitive to the needs of mothers,” the researchers wrote.
Solid food was introduced early in 52.7% of formula-fed infants, 50.2% of mixed-fed infants and 24.3% of breastfed infants. Exactly why mothers who formula feed were more likely to start solid foods earlier is not completely understood, but Clayton and colleagues hypothesize that poor clinician training regarding recommended feeding practices may play a role.
The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends babies be exclusively breastfed for their first 6 months, that solid foods be avoided during these first six months and that breastfeeding be maintained throughout the first year.
“It is possible that clinicians recommend earlier solid food introduction for formula-fed infants simply because they think that the solid food recommendation is specifically for breastfed infants,” the researchers wrote, adding “much of the attention on infant feeding is focused on the goal of exclusive breastfeeding.”
Mothers who introduced solid foods early were more likely to be younger, unmarried, less educated and Women Infants and Children (WIC) recipients. The majority had given birth to more than one child (70.9%). Just 29.1% were first-time mothers.
The Infant Feeding Practices Study II involved 1,334 mothers and is the largest prospective study on U.S. babies and their feeding habits.
Study limitations include a sample that was non-nationally representative and skewed to mothers who were white, middle-income and English speaking. The findings may underestimate the true prevalence of early solid food introduction in the United States, the researchers cautioned.