Child development experts advise parents not to introduce solid foods, such as baby cereal, into an infant's diet until 4 to 6 months of age. New research suggests, however, that about 40 percent of parents aren't heeding the advice and are giving their babies solid food much sooner.
The researchers found that formula-fed infants were much more likely to be given solid foods too early than those breast-fed.
Parents are advised to wait until after 4 months because infants aren't developmentally ready for solid foods before then, said the study's senior author, Kelley Scanlon, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Scanlon said there are other reasons why early feeding isn't recommended.
The early introduction of solid foods has been linked to a shorter duration of breast-feeding. Early solid food consumption has also been linked to the development of chronic conditions, such as childhood obesity, celiac disease, diabetes and eczema, according to the study.
Scanlon and her colleagues interviewed more than 1,300 mothers on how soon their infants are given solids.
Forty percent of mothers had introduced solid foods before 4 months of age.
About 24 percent of exclusively breast-feeding moms introduced early solid food, while close to 53 percent of formula-fed babies were given solid foods early.
Slightly more than 50 percent of babies that were fed both breast milk and formula were introduced to solid foods before 4 months.
Reasons cited by the moms included, "My baby was old enough," "My baby seemed hungry," "I wanted to feed my baby something in addition to breast milk or formula," "My baby wanted the food I ate," or "A doctor or other health care professional said my baby should begin eating solid food."
Scanlon said mothers who formula-fed their babies were more likely to report having a health care provider tell them that solid foods before 4 months was OK.
Results of the study, released online Monday, will also appear in the April issue of Pediatrics.