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Risks of Feeding Your Baby Solids Too Soon

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If you’re a new parent, the question of when to start your baby on solid food can feel daunting.

Well-meaning family members and friends have their own beliefs about introducing solids and may expect you to agree with their opinions. But starting solid foods too early can have health consequences.

If your baby seems to want solids, or you’re hoping solid food will calm fussiness, you might be eager to get started.

Before you do, take a look at what the research says about when to start your baby on solids, including baby food.

What Doctors Say

Introducing solid food before your baby reaches four months of age raises the risk of increased malnutrition and obesity, both in infancy and later in early childhood. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates waiting until your baby is at least four months old to introduce solid food. Even better, says the organization, is to wait until your baby is six months old.

Medical experts strongly discourage the early introduction of solids because it may have dire consequences such as risk of infection, choking, undernutrition and death in the short term and increased possibility of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the long term.

The dangers are real

According to Professor Mda, a number of studies show that the early introduction of solids in babies is associated with allergic diseases, including eczema and an increased rate of wheezing. “In developing countries, babies who start solids early are prone to undernutrition, while in developed countries there is an association with obesity and increased body fat, which are risk factors for diabetes,” he says.

He adds that the oral muscles of a child younger than four months are not suitable for solid foods and there is often a problem with the coordination of swallowing, increasing the chances of choking.

Heidi du Preez, a professional natural scientist from Cape Town, says that before four months, the digestive tract of a baby is immature and solids increase the risk of baby developing allergies.

Excuses, excuses

Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s Minister of Health, said that the excuses parents used when introducing solids include perceived milk insufficiency, breastfeeding difficulties and the mother returning to work.

“Even when mothers would get off to a good start in breastfeeding, often a few months after delivery, there is a sharp decline in breastfeeding rates and practices. Factors originally causing this were associated with promotion of infant formula milk (which has now stopped) and misconceptions that breastfeeding was a sign of poverty,” he said.

Professor Mda says a large number of parents, or their parents, have the belief that it is a good idea to start solids early as they believe breastmilk is not enough for their growing baby. However, he confirms breastmilk alone is all your baby needs for the first six months of his life.

If you’re feeding your baby solids in an effort to have him sleep through, forget about it. Remember that your small baby needs to nurse often, and those two to three hourly feeds are going to be going on for a while.

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Breastmilk is enough

Colostrum, the first milk a baby receives just after birth, is actually regarded as the first immunisation and is rich in nutrition and protective substances vital for the baby.

According to the National Department of Health, breastmilk is the only nourishment babies need as it provides all nutrients a baby needs to grow and develop for those first few months. Thereafter breastmilk provides most of the nutrients a baby needs from 6 to 12 months. 

Professor Mda says babies exclusively breastfed for 6 months have better growth than those who are introduced to solids early.

“Some studies indicate that their IQ tends to be higher and they have fewer behavioural problems than those not exclusively breastfed in the first 6 months of life. Breastmilk also contains the beneficial flora that keeps your babies’ digestive tract healthy, boosts immunity and helps prevent colic and eczema,” he says.

Research shows breastmilk contains antibodies that strengthen a baby’s immune system and prevent illnesses like diarrhoea and pneumonia. It promotes sensory and cognitive development and protects your baby against infectious and chronic diseases. Breastfed babies are also less likely to have respiratory and middle ear infections and are at less risk of dying from malnutrition.

When did you introduce your baby to solids? Tell us by commenting below.


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