Dangers of Feeding Your Baby Solids Too Soon

Feeding a baby for the first time with solid food
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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.

For example, some families tout that solid food will calm a fussy baby, but this belief can lead to introducing them too early. If your baby seems to want solids, you might be eager to start them, but be unsure whether it's safe to do so. Let's take a look at what the research says about when to start your baby on solids, including baby food.

What Doctor's Say

Introducing solid food before your baby reaches 4 months of age raises the risk of increased weight gain and obesity, both in infancy and later in early childhood. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advocates waiting until your baby is at least 6 months old to introduce solids, and definitely not introducing solid food before the age of 4 months.

In 2011, a study published in Pediatrics (the journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics) specifically investigated the possible relationship between the timing of introducing solids and the subsequent risk of childhood obesity. The researchers looked at how the introduction of solids might affect the rate of obesity in pre-school aged children.

The study's findings indicated that among the infants who were never breastfed (or who stopped breastfeeding before 4 months old), introducing solids before the age of 4 months was associated with a sixfold increase in the odds of obesity at 3 years old.

In the past, experts had argued that formula-fed infants experience "rapid early growth" (formula-fed infants tended to gain weight more quickly at the beginning than breastfed babies did). However, the 2011 study found that rapid early growth did not explain the increased risk of obesity in preschool-age children.

Starting Solids for Breastfed Babies 

Interestingly, the 2011 study also found that for babies who were breastfed, the timing of introducing solid foods was not associated with increased obesity risk.

There was little difference in the rates of obesity between breastfed infants who started solids before 4 months of age, those who started between 4 and 5 months of age, and those who started at or after 6 months of age.

It seems the rates of obesity in breastfed babies were quite similar, but does that mean that breastfeeding moms should feel confident that they can start solids as soon as they want? Not exactly.

Keep in mind that this study was considering only one health risk: obesity. While 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 stick with the AAP's suggested timing for starting solids—about six months of age.

When to Start Solids

Ultimately, your baby's age and a conversation with your pediatrician should be what determines when you introduce solids—including baby food—into your little one's diet.

You might notice 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. However, these indicators do not replace a discussion with your baby's doctor. 

After parents start their baby on solids, it's common for them to encounter a whole new set of questions, such as whether they have to start with baby cerealwhich foods to introduce (and when), and whether they should introduce juice into their child's diet. While these queries can seem like a lot, don't hesitate to ask your pediatrician any questions you have about your baby's nutrition and diet.

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  1. Huh SY, Rifas-Shiman SL, Taveras EM, Oken E, Gillman MW. Timing of solid food introduction and risk of obesity in preschool-aged childrenPediatrics. 2011;127(3):e544-e551. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-0740

  2. Clayton HB, Li R, Perrine CG, Scanlon KS. Prevalence and Reasons for Introducing Infants Early to Solid Foods: Variations by Milk Feeding TypePediatrics. 2013;131(4):e1108-e1114. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-2265

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Development of Infant Feeding Skills.