Melissa Arca: Hold off on baby's solid foods until 4 to 6 months

04/04/2013 12:00 AM

04/04/2013 8:13 AM

I remember the infant-feeding days well, very well. I recall blueberry-smothered faces, tiny hands squishing puréed squash through clenched little fists, and generally, a feeling that my growing babies loved mealtime.

It was a time of learning, connecting and exploring. It was also messy, but those first food moments are treasured memories.

It's no wonder many parents want to speed to this big milestone.

According to a recent study, 40 percent of moms start solid foods well before the recommended 4- to 6-month-old window. Formula-feeding moms do so earlier than breast-feeding moms (53 percent vs. 24 percent).

What difference does it really make?

Well, it actually makes a significant difference when we're talking about infants under 4 months old.

Here's why:

Before 4 months of age, infants simply need calorie-dense and easily digested food. Think breast milk and infant formulas. And for those moms who exclusively breast-feed, it's best to wait until the 6-month mark so the baby gets the full benefit of exclusive breast milk for those first six months.

Infants need time to develop the head control and coordination needed to safely take in solid foods, even though the foods are puréed.

Wait until your baby is at least 4 months of age and can sit with support, has good head and neck control, can push up with straight elbows while prone, and shows interest in food by leaning forward and opening her mouth.

Babies have a natural extrusion reflex, which causes them to thrust their tongue forward whenever an object is placed between their lips. This reflex can be frustrating and quite strong. It typically disappears by 4 to 5 months of age.

Introducing solid foods too early (before 4 months of age) may increase risk for chronic diseases such as eczema, diabetes, obesity and celiac disease.

Many parents who jumped the gun on first foods seemed to think it was OK with their child's pediatrician and that their baby was ready, seemed hungry in spite of formula and/or breast milk, and believed it would help them sleep.

However, less than 4 months old is simply too early, and there is no evidence that introducing rice cereal or other puréed first foods will help your baby sleep through the night.

Only time (and a little luck) will help with that.

The findings did surprise me, though. Forty percent seems really high in the face of such negative consequences. It has reminded me to address the first-foods talk with parents at the 2-month wellness visit instead of waiting until the child is 4 months old, so I don't lose that window of opportunity.

Just remember, it really is in your child's best interest to take these feeding recommendations to heart and absolutely wait until your baby is at least 4 months of age. Waiting until your baby is closer to 6 months old will likely ensure that he has reached the necessary developmental milestones for safe, successful and fun first food moments.

And when you and baby are truly ready, make sure you have your camera nearby. You're going to want to capture those messy, avocado-covered smiles that radiate pure delight.

Dr. Melissa Arca is a mother of two. Her blog, www.confessionsofadrmom.com, is featured on The Bee's blog and community news network, sacramentoconnect.sacbee.com

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