Introducing solid foods to your baby can be an exciting adventure. I know that it was for me, the spit out food, screwed up faces, and the eventual gusto with which my son ate. When to introduce solids appears to be very important, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics that explored the relationship between the early introduction of solid foods (four months or earlier) and early childhood obesity. Interestingly, the results differed according to if and for how long the children were breastfed as infants.
Huh and colleagues (2011) used data collected on 847 infants at birth, six months, and one, two, and three years of age. Information on feeding practices was gathered at each of these points in time and at three years, information on obesity was also collected. The researchers adjusted for a variety of factors, such as maternal education, household income, parent BMI, and child age, gender, and race/ethnicity. They also controlled for early infant growth so none of the results are explained by rapid growth during the early months of life.
The authors found that obesity was associated with introducing solids too early (before four months), but this was the case only for formula-fed infants. For infants who were breastfed for four months or longer, introducing solids before four months of age did not increase the rate of obesity. However, for the formula-fed* infants, eating solids before four months increased the odds of obesity six-fold when compared to eating solids after four months. In other words, the highest rate of obesity was found among formula-fed infants who were also given solid foods before they were four months old. *Formula-fed infants included those infants that were exclusively fed formula as well as those that were breast-fed for fewer than four months.
Why did the formula-fed infants with early solid food introduction end up being obese more frequently than their breastfed counterparts? The authors suggest that mothers of breastfed infants may be able to recognize hunger and satiety cues more easily for starters. They go on to say that breastfed infants may not add caloric intake when introduced to solids. Rather, they may be able to self-regulate their breastfeeding and take in less breastmilk to adjust for the food intake. For formula-fed infants, the authors state that they perhaps add the solid food calories on to the same amount of formula that they are accustomed to drinking and, therefore, increase their overall calories consumed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics gives the green light for solid foods to be introduced between four and six months of age, preferably six months. The current study suggests that following these guidelines is especially critical for parents of formula-fed infants so that the odds of developing early childhood obesity decline. Keeping these recommendations in mind, enjoy the solid food experience and keep lots of towels on hand!
Source: Huh, S., Rifas-Shiman, S., Taveras, E., Oken, E., & Gillman, M. (2011). Timing of Solid Food Introduction and Risk of Obesity in Preschool-Aged Children PEDIATRICS, 127 (3) DOI: 10.1542/peds.2010-0740
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