The Dangers of Feeding Your Baby Solids Too Soon

Introducing solids too early may increase your baby's obesity risk

Baby Being Fed With Spoon
Risks of feeding baby solid food too soon. Alexandra Grablewski / Getty Images

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 often have their own beliefs about introducing solids and may force their opinions on you. In some families, there is a belief that solid foods can calm a fussy baby, which may lead to introducing them too early. Or, perhaps you're eager to go solids because he or she seems to want them, but you're not sure if it's safe yet.

Let's take a look at what the research really says about when to start your baby on solid food.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' Position

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates waiting until your baby is about six months old, and definitely not introducing solids before four months old—for good reason. Introducing solid food before your baby reaches four months raises her risk of increased weight gain and obesity, both in infancy and early childhood. 

Many medical studies confirm this timeline, including a 2011 study in Pediatrics, the journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics, which specifically investigated the timing of introducing solids and the risk of childhood obesity.

The study took a close look at how the introduction of solids may affect the rates of obesity in pre-school aged children. It found that among infants who were never breastfed or who stopped breastfeeding before 4 months old, introducing solids before 4 months old was associated with a sixfold increase in the odds of obesity at 3 years old.

In the past, some have argued that formula-fed infants experience "rapid early growth," meaning that formula-fed infants tend to gain weight more quickly in the beginning than breastfed babies. This study found that rapid early growth did not explain the increased risk of obesity in preschool age children.

Is It Okay to Start Breastfed Infants on Solids Earlier? 

Interestingly, the researchers found that when it came to babies who were breastfed, the timing of introducing solid foods was not associated with an increased obesity risk. In fact, among the breastfed infants, there was little difference in the rates of obesity between those who started solids before four months of age, those who started between four to five months of age, and those who started at or after six months. It seems the rates of obesity in breastfed babies were quite similar. 

So does that mean that breastfeeding moms should feel confident that they can start solids as soon as they want? Not exactly.

You have to keep in mind that this study was considering only one health risk— obesity. However, past studies have considered that starting solids before four months of age may have other health risks. For example, because young babies lack adequate head control and still may show evidence of a reflex known as "tongue reflex", babies younger than four months are more apt to choke, even on thin baby food purées and runny infant cereal. Regardless of the fact that there was no substantial connection between the timing of introducing solids to breastfed infants and their risk of preschool obesity, the study still urged parents to keep with the AAP's suggested timing for starting solids: About six months of age.

Practical Tips When You Start Baby Food

Ultimately, your baby's age and a conversation with your pediatrician should be what determines when to introduce baby food to your little one. While there may be certain signs that your baby is ready or almost ready for solid foods, such as strong head and neck control as well as the ability to sit up independently, none of these should replace a discussion with your baby's doctor. 

When you do start your baby on solids, a whole separate group of concerns commonly arises, such as whether you have to start with baby cerealwhich foods to introduce as your baby grows, when to introduce juice, and other frequently asked questions.

Check out these articles to separate fact from fiction and learn more about how to navigate this exciting milestone in your baby's life. 

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. Infant food and feeding. 

Mayo Clinic. Infant and Toddler Health. Solid foods: How to get your baby started. 

Susanna Y. Huh, MD, MPH, Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, MPH, Elsie M. Taveras, MD, MPH, Emily Oken, MD, MPH, and Matthew W. Gillman, MD, SM. Timing of Solid Food Introduction and Risk of Obesity in Preschool-Aged Children Pediatrics February 2011.

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