The Health Risks for Starting Solids Too Early

Amy Keyishian

baby eating Solid FoodsWe’ve all heard the advice commonly given to fussy babies: He’s starving -- start him on solid food early! My friend’s mother-in-law even said her pediatrician told her to put cereal in his milk as early as 6 weeks -- it was supposed to make babies feel fuller, therefore calmer.

Just one problem. According to the latest research, giving solid food too early can cause obesity in babies and children. And while we love a chubby baby, there's that too-much-of-a-good-thing problem.

So how early is too early? And what babies are at risk?

The study followed 200 babies over a four-year period. They were all from a low-income background and had agreed to be part of a poverty and obesity study. At their three-month visit, 77 percent of these babies had been fed solids, 25 percent were getting juice, and only 6 percent were exclusively breastfed.

These babies were given solids so early because it was supposed to stop them from being so fussy. The study also found that obese moms were more likely to start solids early. Depressed moms would start juice early. One of the study’s authors says these moms are overwhelmed, and will try anything to soothe babies they are having trouble caring for.

But the long-term effect is that these are the kids who end up obese themselves. First, they pack on the pounds even in infanthood, because they’re getting up to a full extra day’s worth of calories each week. Chubby babies are great, but that’s too much extra food. They also form the idea early that when something is wrong, you can soothe yourself with food. Hello, emotional eating.

Ultimately, the purpose of the study is to encourage women to breastfeed longer, and to discourage early introduction of solids. Here’s what I want to know: How can a woman already overwhelmed by poverty, depression, and other issues change this kind of behavior without help?

I guess that’s the other purpose of the study -- to serve as proof that there are real benefits to lending a hand to struggling moms. If we can intervene early and change patterns, surely we can become healthier as a country and save some Medicare dollars to boot, right?

Bottom line, though, is that if you’re just slipping in under the 6-month mark to give your baby solids because he’s clearly ready (he reaches for food, tries to grab it as it goes past him), you’re not dooming your child to obesity -- so if a random mother-in-law is giving you a hard time, tell her to can it. 

Were you told to introduce solids early? How early, and did it work for you? 

Image via BabbageCabbage/Flickr

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