Forty percent of moms start babies on solid food before the recommended age of 4 months, says a new study. And more than half said their health care provider gave the go-ahead.
Moms who use formula were twice as likely as those who exclusively breast-fed to start solids too early (53% to 24%), says the study, in the April Pediatrics, online today.
A number of health problems are associated with starting solid foods too early, says study co-author Kelley Scanlon, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These findings "don't offer a full understanding why, but they give us some insight," she says.
Moms cited reasons such as "It would help my baby sleep longer."
The American Academy of Pediatrics says the head and neck control and coordination infants need to eat solids does not develop until 4 months. Also, getting solids too early may increase risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, eczema and celiac disease, the study notes.
Giving solids too soon also ends exclusive breast-feeding, which the AAP recommends for the first 6 months because of numerous health benefits for infants, including reduced risk of respiratory and ear infections, diarrhea, diabetes, obesity and sudden infant death syndrome.
Researchers surveyed 1,334 moms almost monthly on their introduction of solid food in the first year.
"We didn't expect to see so many before 4 months," says Scanlon. Previous studies found 19% to 29%, but those surveyed moms two or three years later; the new study asked what was fed in the previous seven days.
Moms who gave solid food before 4 months were more likely to be younger, unmarried, less educated or be participating in the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program, the study found.
Doctors "may not spend enough time explaining why they should wait and that every time a baby cries doesn't mean they're hungry," says Lana Gagin, Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich. She was not involved in the study.