Solid Foods Being Fed to Infants Too Early, CDC Says

by in Infant Development


For a good 20 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has advised that parents avoid feeding solid food before babies reach the age of 4 months. That suggestion was revised last year, and parents are now being encouraged to provide nothing except breast milk until the baby reaches six months. When breast milk isn’t an option, formula is considered an acceptable alternative. Unfortunately, the message doesn’t seem to be getting across, the CDC says.

Baby eating solids

In a national survey of 1,334 mothers, 40 percent said they gave their baby solid foods before the age of 4 months, and 9 percent said they had started as early as 4 weeks. This suggests that either mothers aren’t aware of the recommendations, or they find them too difficult to follow.

Some of the most popular reasons for offering solids included “my baby is old enough,” “my baby seems hungry,” “I wanted my baby to sleep longer at night,” and (the most concerning of all) “a doctor or health care professional said my baby should be eating solid food.”

Economics seemed to play a part in the decision. Young, unmarried, and less educated women seemed turned to solid food more often than other mothers. Poorer women, who tended to view formula as more expensive, also tended to feed solids sooner than those in higher income brackets. Additionally, those that exclusively fed formula or a mix of formula and breast milk were the most likely to say they’d received the go-ahead from their child’s pediatrician.

“Clearly we need better dissemination of the recommendations on solid food introduction,” Kelly Scanlon, an epidemiologist with the CDC, and an author of the study, told NY Times. “Health care providers need to provide clear and accurate guidance, and then provide support to help parents carry out those recommended practices.”

The problem is, that while pediatricians may be sympathetic to the difficulty that parents face in feeding their child only breast milk or formula during that first six months, it’s important that they stand by what they already know . . . little good can come of feeding a baby solids before they are truly ready.

“When a baby is ready to start eating food, he will put his hands in his mouth, and you will see him actually making chewing motions,” Dr. TJ Gold, a pediatrician with Tribeca Pediatrics in Brooklyn, told NY Times. “At three months, they can’t even hold their heads up well and they can’t sit up, making it difficult, if not dangerous to put solid food in their mouth.”

In addition, infants under six months haven’t had the chance to fully develop the diversity of gut bacteria needed to safely process solid food. This can lead to a number of gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhea and gastroenteritis (inflammation of the intestines). And there are studies that have linked the early introduction of solids to problems ranging from obesity and diabetes to eczema and celiac disease.

And those reasons for feeding solids early? They don’t really hold up much when you really take a good look at them. For example, if a parent is turning to a bottle to help a baby sleep at night or gain weight, they might find that, in some ways, they’re actually being counterproductive.

“That big fat bottle at the end of the night isn’t why your baby is sleeping—it’s a skill you acquire,” Dr Gold said. “And if you think giving your child more calories is going to help him gain weight, but it gives him more diarrhea, then he’s not actually absorbing as much.”

In fact, the only one that really holds any serious weight is the cost of formula.

“The formula gets really expensive, especially in the 4-to-6 month window,” Gold said. “and if you have more than one child and you’re already preparing food for the whole family, it’s much easier to just start sweeping things off your plate.”

This issue can be balanced out by encouraging breastfeeding as much and as long as possible, especially for women that are in lower income brackets. This is because, unlike formula, breast milk is supply and demand. As your baby needs more, your body produces more. For help with breastfeeding struggles, seek out help from a lactation consultant or a pediatrician that supports long-term breastfeeding.

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About the Author

Kate Givans is a wife and a mother of five—four sons (one with autism) and a daughter. She’s an advocate for breastfeeding, women’s rights, against domestic violence, and equality for all. When not writing—be it creating her next romance novel or here on Growing Your Baby—Kate can be found discussing humanitarian issues, animal rights, eco-awareness, food, parenting, and her favorite books and shows on Twitter or Facebook. Laundry is the bane of her existence, but armed with a cup of coffee, she sometimes she gets it done. Find out more about Kate’s books at authorkategivans.com.

Comments (36)

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  1. Peggy says:

    Sorry why oh why would there be an increase in food allergies since they have lengthened the time that food is introduced.

    • Lindsay says:

      False correlation. There has been an increase in food allergies since they started recommending to delay certain foods or avoid them entirely. In places where they don’t delay specific foods there are very few food allergies.

  2. Ashlee says:

    This seems ridiculous to me. I knew both my sons were ready about 4 months for baby food. They were making themselves sick cause the formula wasn’t filling them up. And what mother would be stupid enough to give a 4 month old a hot dog. You give them baby food. It’s not like they have teeth. The whole scraping stuff off your plate and giving it to baby is dumb. They aren’t ready for that until almost one year when they have teeth to chew. That’s why they have these really watery liquid like jars of food called baby food.

    • Sarah says:

      You do realize that they do not need teeth to eat food right? No I would not give a 6 month old a hot dog because it’s garbage.
      I wouldn’t even consider giving food to a 4 month old and I didn’t touch jarred baby food. At 6 months old you can give baby food straight from your plate. No purees! Purees are okay if you want to go that route but they do not need them at all. It’s called Baby Led Weaning and it can be done with or without teeth!
      Thankfully I have a up to date doctor who understands that gut health is important! She recommends no earlier than 6 months for foods!

    • Susan says:

      Yup! I was going to follow the fold and wait the “prescribed” 6 months but at our 4 month well baby the pediatrician, you know the one with his MD told me our son was ready. He also said “you eat 3 meals a day he needs to eat 3 meals a day”. My son is now 4. We see the same pediatrician, he has ZERO concerns about obesity, diabetes, and this kid has zero allergies.

      At any rste by the time I am a grand mother you wont even be able to take the bubble wrap off your child til they are 18…and only then can we introduce food to them.

      • MamaN says:

        “He needs to eat 3 meals a day?” I would hope that your 4 month old was already eating far MORE than 3 meals a day. Most babies that age are nursing 6-10 times a day. (Or taking a comparable number of bottles.) If you were only giving your baby 2 bottles/breastfeeds a day, no wonder he was hungry.) IOW MILK is a ‘meal’ for infants. Solids, until baby is close to a year old, are mostly just for fun.
        (Sad that your doctor, the one with the MD, is unfamiliar with the recommendations of his own professional organization. The AAP says 6 months.)

  3. Rose says:

    Idk about this… I have been giving my baby rice cereal for a week now he is 3months and 1 week…. he loves it. He opens his mouth wide when the spoon comes to him and he smiles and coos the whole time. I do not give him much. once in the morning once at night and only enough to mix with 1.5oz of breasmilk its barely solid mpstlt liquid. Idk I think this is a case by case basis…

    • MamaN says:

      What your baby ‘loves’ them is the concept of taking breastmilk from a spoon. Do you really think he notices the taste of a tiny amount of starch in an ounce of breastmilk?
      If you really feel that your baby is ready for solids (and he isn’t), why not offer him real food with real taste?
      Whether your baby will be harmed by early solids, nobody can say. But anyone can say with absolute certainty that he doesn’t benefit from it.

  4. I’m so relived to read this article. After a year of extensively researching the GI Tract development between birth and 5 years of age I’m so saddened the research behind waiting till the baby is physiological ready to safey consume foods other than formula and breastmilk isn’t researched more often by well meaning but misinformed parents. Luckily there are enough scholarly articles and research papers avaliable online when searching Google.

  5. S says:

    This research is accurate. Before 6 months, the baby does not have all of the enzymes developed to breakdown the solid food he is getting. Thus, this leads to gut malfunction and many other GI problems. Though you may not realize it now, this can lead to further issues even decades from now.

    Just a dietitian’s perspective.

  6. Aking says:

    Ashlee I saw my step sister in law give her son chicken that she pulled off the bone to her 5 month old son, who mind you had no teeth so believe it or not there are mothers out there that do dumb things like that.

  7. Dani says:

    I followed my doctor’s orders and introduced rice cereal at 4 months. My son is big for his age and was sitting up really early and was ready for cereal. He started baby food (puree) shortly there after and introduced each flavor one at a time for a few weeks at a time so we knew there were no allergies. I think this article shines a bad light on the moms that are doing it correctly and following their doctor’s orders and suggestions.

  8. Beth says:

    Both of my kids were eating a little cereal in their bedtime bottles at 2 weeks old. They are grown, healthy adults now. My youngest grandson turned 3 weeks old today and trys to eat his fist because he gets so hungry so fast. So if she waits until he is four months old to give him cereal, he is going to starve to death and they are going to go broke buying formula.

    • Beth B. says:

      Beth, babies often chew on their fists. They are in the “oral fixation stage” at this point and put everything in their mouths… That doesn’t mean they are starving. This is NOT a reason to give cereal early. Babies will not starve without rice cereal. What do you think babies have done for centuries before cereal and baby food was invented?? They were breastfed usually exclusively for the first year if not longer. Formula/breastmilk is all a baby needs for the first months of life. Google “open gut” and read about the damage that can be done to baby’s intestines and stomach from feeding solid food before they are developmentally ready. Support your daughter/daughter in law and her decisions to wait to feed solids until 6 months or later.

  9. Katie says:

    With eight kids I’ve found each one was ready for solids at a different apge. It’s called baby led weaning. You watch for signs for when YOUR baby is ready. Every baby is different 😉

  10. cholwerk says:

    I hate to see babies fed while the child is reclining. Too hard to swallow! Would you like to eat in that position?

  11. C says:

    I started with solids (avocados and bananas) at six months. I breastfed, but I do not agree with telling any mother how to parent, especially when it comes to breastfeeding, nor nutrition, aside from being kind and compassionate. It’s a very personal decision, based not only upon personal choice, but economic. My daughter has a great palate. A great book on food for kids is “Super Baby Food”…I used it and as my [vegetarian] friend said, “If you use 10% of this book to cook for your kid, you are crazy awesome.”

  12. Anonymous says:

    I have read many things about starting before 6 months and why it’s recommended. I started all 3 of mine early and no problems. The theory of open gut is just that a theory. If you can show me scientific peer reviewed articles I might change my mind. Also cereal in a bottle is so bad unless there’s reflux issues and many people give babies things like chicken when they do BLW. Yes a hot dog is ridiculous but to each their own. Everyone parents differently. No reason to judge.

  13. grace says:

    The world health organization, the American academy of pediatrics, and the CDC all recommend waiting until 6mos to start solids. Why argue?

    Rice cereal added to bottles presents a choking hazard. Rice cereal also has 0% nutritional value and is just fillers. So giving it to baby is basically taking up room in there belly where they need nutrients from breastmilk, formula, or other food.

    Your doctor who recommends starti g solid before 6mos may have plgotten theri PhD 20yrs ago and we are muc more davenced medically. Yes, they take refresher classess to keep their certification, but it doesnt mean they take ones that present these fecommendatoons. A lot of doctors give bad and outdated advice.

  14. D says:

    “Open gut theory is just a theory”… so is the theory of gravity but I don’t see anybody arguing THAT…
    Every baby is different yes to an extent but baby should still be at LEAST four months old…

  15. nancy says:

    My grandson is 7 1/2 months old & we were given formula & stage 2 baby food for him through our WIC office,No matter how much we try to feed him the baby food he does not want it at all,he closes his mouth tightly or he turns his head & shakes it in the motion of no,so in place of using the spoon to feed it to him we will put it into his food bottle,he takes a few sips off of it & throws it away from him.I think he is not ready to eat food.we give him water daily now cause that’s what they said for us to do because of the food.but I totally feel he just does not want the food yet just his formula.we try all day everyday & still get the same reaction from him.

    • Julie says:

      Three of my kids completely skipped the “baby food” stage and went straight to things they could pick up and gnaw. They breastfeed exclusively, grew just fine, and started in on soft table foods at 7-8 months.

  16. Kc says:

    http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/faq/

    No where in the cdc report does it say your bogus statements such as ” Young, unmarried, and less educated women seemed turned to solid food more often than other mothers. Poorer women, who tended to view formula as more expensive”
    Im old married and graduated college and still find this so offensive, couldnt take the rest of the article seriously after these rude inaccurate comments…

  17. PedsRN says:

    (RN) For those of you insisting your kids ate at 4 months “and they’re fine” or your idiot MD recommended it early… Let me tell you WHY you THINK there’s no consequence and you dr is clueless. The effects of virgin gut syndrome and side effects of early feeding aren’t typically manifested until early to middle adulthood. That means by the time your child is having issues with their health, or major GI problems, they’re too old to be seeing a pediatrician, and old enough that you’re not thinking back to when you fed them too damn early. Let’s hope they take better care of you in your old age than you did of them by feeding them too soon.

  18. Miranda says:

    This is one of the most inaccurate thing i have read

  19. Th says:

    Studies look at the relationship of marital status, education levels and age and it is not meant to be offensive. The fact of the matter is, these factors play a role in health services research and health outcomes research. The study found those things to be significant factors.

  20. Lauren says:

    We waited until 6 months. But no no no you don’t have to do pureed food first because a baby doesn’t have teeth. We literally gave our daughter bites of what we were eating from day one. Now at 19m my nugget will eat Pho, sushi, Moroccan and Persian food. Purees are fine but not a necessity

  21. Peggy says:

    With my 3 children they all had just formula until 12 months per Dr recommendation. Of course I’m a grandma now so was awhile ago, however they were all very healthy children. Did pretty much same with one year old granddaughter and she is very healthy also.

  22. Ashleigh says:

    My daughter has had baby rice at 8 weeks olz rusk from 10 weeks old and she is now fully weaned at 5 1/2 months old she eats everything i do she was off baby pureed food at 4 months old

  23. Andi says:

    I have dentures and almost never wear them and especially can’t use them to eat with. I do just fine with my gums, sans things like chips or fresh vegetables such as whole carrots or broccoli. My son had acid reflux and I had to mix rice cereal with his breast milk and formula so he wouldn’t vomit all the time. Nothing else worked! He ate his first pureed food at around 5 months, officially. He’s doing great, now, and can eat anything, no weight problems or allergies. That being said, there is no standard, every child is different and it’s A PARENTS job to interpret the needs of their own child. PERIOD.

  24. Shannon says:

    Rice cereal is harmful because it’s empty calories with no nutritional value, taking up room in the digestive system of your baby that should be going towards milk. Also… Arsenic.

  25. Jillian says:

    Wow I didn’t realize there were so many Moms out there who are not educating themselves before making these decision. Just as the RN said you may think your baby “likes” food and is ready for food because you’re the parent and you know best but their little bellies are not ready for it yet. This may not show up until they are long gone from a Pediatrician. Your adult child may not link the fact that he/she’s parent fed them at 8 weeks old (nor would they think to ask) to the reason that they are having major issues in the GI department.
    Ashleigh, there is NO WAY a pediatrician recommended you starting foods at 8 weeks and definitely not weaning them off breastmilk/formula at 5 1/2 months!!!! There are so many vitamins in those liquids that your child needs in this stage of their life that they just can’t get from foods. I feel so bad what might come to your child in the future. They are growing so much in that first year and to deprive them of necessary nutrients could be detrimental to their bones, organs, mental health etc. This is why they recommend formula/breastmilk until they are at least 1 year old. (In the first year there should be no juices, milk, and 1 oz water max/day and only when it is extremely hot)
    Cereal and the likes are just fillers so to use those you are taking away valuable space in their little bellies where they should be taking in these precious vitamins and nutrients. Everything that I have ever read or heard was 6 months for food and there are some exceptions at around 4 months if reflux is involved and hasn’t been outgrown yet. I just had my 3rd baby and have always waited until 6 months.
    There are many services to help with formula costs. PLEASE seek these services if this is the reason you are feeding your child (and/or weaning your child) early!!!! Most insurances are also giving out breast pumps now too and the hospital can give you the paperwork when you deliver your child. I understand the struggle of a working mom but if you can (not all can) breast feed. It is FREE and now so is the breast pump to help if you are working and away from your baby at times.

  26. Hedda Bear says:

    Being a Brit I used to grumble about the price of baby formula over here, until I went on holiday to the USA and needed to buy baby formula. I could not believe how expensive formula is, each tub containing about half of what I’d get at home and costing at least twice the price. I can understand completely why some people from low income families would look to ween their babies early. While it is all well and good to say breast is best, it is not always easy, some of us can’t breast feed. So if that healthy, wholesome, free option isn’t available to you it’s understandable that you’d try to find a more affordable way to feed your child.

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