Lifestyle

Feeding solid foods too early may cause nutritional problems later in life | Gustafson

Nearly half of all newborns in the United States are introduced too soon to solid foods, causing them digestive problems and nutritional deficiencies that can have lasting health effects as they grow older.

According to a recently published study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40 percent of interviewed mothers said they gave their babies solid food before they were four months old. Nine percent started as early as four weeks.

Pediatricians recommend that infants should be given nothing but breast milk or, if that is not an option, baby formula or a combination of both at least until the age of six months.

The researchers found that many young parents were either unaware of these guidelines or found them hard to follow, often for financial reasons. Those who turned to solid foods too early were primarily young, less educated and single mothers, according to the study.

Expenses for baby formula can be quite high, between $50 and $100 for the first month and between $1,138 and $1,188 for the first year, according to one cost calculator (http://bfcaa.com/cost-of-formula-feeding/). Many low-income families cannot easily afford them, especially when there are other children at different growing stages.

Problems for babies

Still, nothing good can come from feeding babies food they cannot handle yet, said Dr. T. J. Gold, a pediatrician at Tribeca Pediatrics in Brooklyn in an interview with the New York Times. Before they can sit and hold their heads up without help, it can be difficult if not outright dangerous to put solid food in their mouths. They also don't have the right gut bacteria for digesting it yet, which can lead to gastroenteritis and diarrhea and interfere with proper nutrient absorption. Long-term problems can include obesity, diabetes, eczema and celiac disease, he added.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), formerly the American Dietetic Association (ADA), recommends breastfeeding as an "important public health strategy for improving infant and child morbidity and mortality." In a position statement, the AND says it regards exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and breastfeeding with complementary foods from six months until at least one year of age as the ideal feeding pattern for infants.

What makes breast milk the ideal source of nutrition for newborns is that it offers a good balance of important nutrients that are easily digestible. Moreover, the mother's milk changes its composition over time to fit the changing needs of her growing child.

There are also important benefits from breastfeeding for the health of the mother, including bonding with the child, increased energy expenditure, leading to faster return to pre-pregnancy weight, decreased risk for postpartum depression and improvement of parenting skills, among others.

The AND advocates a number of measures for the promotion of breastfeeding, including professional counseling for pregnant and postpartum women and their families as well as public policy changes and legislation that favors and facilitates breastfeeding.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book "The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun"®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, "Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D." (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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