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Posted at 12:00 AM ET, 02/ 7/2011

More on babies and solid food

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

A few weeks ago I blogged about a report questioning whether it's really best for all babies to be exclusively breast-fed until they're 6 months old, as do World Health Organization recommendations.

Current U.S. guidelines call for feeding babies nothing but breast milk until they're between 4 months and 6 months old, or as close to 6 months as possible. But some argue that delaying the introduction of solid foods might actually promote unhealthful eating habits by preventing babies from developing tastes for such things as bitter foods (including leafy greens).

A study published this morning in the journal Pediatrics adds new information to the mix. It found that among babies who had been formula-fed or who had been weaned by 4 months, those who were introduced to solid foods before 4 months were at greatly increased risk of being obese at age 3. That relationship wasn't explained by rapid early growth among those infants, the study found. The timing of introduction of solid foods to breast-fed babies didn't appear to affect their risk of obesity.

The authors say their work supports existing recommendations that solid foods not be introduced to babies until at least 4 months, at least for babies who are fed formula or are breast-fed for less than four months.

Why is this all so important? The study explains:

Our data suggest that increased adherence to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines has the potential to reduce the risk of obesity in children in the United States, given the relatively high prevalence of infants who are formula- fed or breastfed for less than 4 months. Approximately one-quarter of infants in the United States are never breastfed, and approximately half are breastfed for less than 4 months.

Lots of you shared interesting comments when I last wrote about exclusive breastfeeding and introducing solid foods. Let's hear more!

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | February 7, 2011; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  Childhood obesity  
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The idea that kids are going to grow up refusing to eat their vegetables because they weren't introduced to them before 6 months or 4 months is absurd. Babies grow accustomed to many flavors through the mother's milk. Try eating some spicy Thai curry when nursing a 3-month-old, as my wife once did, and it's quite clear that the kids are tasting the food that the mother is eating.

For that matter, it wasn't just the Thai curry that would make our son turn up his nose at breast milk. He also refused it after my wife would eat broccoli.

The long and short of it, though, is that our son had no solids for at least his first 4 months. He's now five and he chomps down broccoli, carrots, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, and everything else with gusto.

Granted, this is one anecdote, but my own family experience growing up was much the same...a family of four kids, all breastfed, none eating solid food for the first 4-6 months. Our mother at healthy food--lots of fruits and vegetables and almost no junk food. As we grew up, we all ate our vegetables. We still do as adults, and obesity is not remotely a problem for any of us.

If parents eat healthily, the kids will, too, and breastfeeding exclusively for 6 or even 8 months isn't going to change that as kids grow up.

Posted by: blert | February 7, 2011 5:33 AM | Report abuse

I think the larger research question should be what are the characteristics of the mothers/families of children who are exclusively formula-fed and who introduce solid foods to newborns before month 4. And then how those characteristics of the mothers/families are associated with having children who are obese at age 3. Or, did the study show that regardless of the socio/demo/economic characteristics of these families, introducing solids before month 4 was directly correlated with obesity at age 3?

Posted by: bindrew | February 7, 2011 10:14 AM | Report abuse

This may be a 'correlation does not equal causation' situation as indicated by a previous poster. Mothers that breast feed longer (and thus delay the introduction of solid food) are less likely to be working full time, and therefore may live in higher SES households. An alternate hypothesis is thus -- babies from wealthier families are less likely to be obese because the families are better educated nutritionally. The correlation to length of time being breast fed would therefore just be spurious.

Posted by: limeygrl1 | February 7, 2011 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Yes, I agree with the all the posters above. Furthermore, a plea to Jennifer:

Stop obsessing about weight related news and start looking at the merits of the papers before giving them more exposure through the media. This is obviously one of those "we need to publish something" paper. They go looking for correlations and they don't even have a plausible hypothesis. And finally what does it mean to be in the >95 percentile for BMI at 3 years of age? It's well known that the timing of the "adiposity rebound", the age when BMI starts going up again, determines the risk of obesity at older ages. How does >95 percentile at 3 years of age correlate with anything in their future?

Posted by: ogs123 | February 7, 2011 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Years ago when raising my children, it was recommended to start them on cereal at 6 weeks, then fruit, then vegetables so that by 4 months they were earing baby food regularly. Both children (in their 50s) are slim, healthy and have never had weight problems. I think fast junk food is the reason for childhood obesity.

Posted by: amac3 | February 9, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

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