The first study of a representative group of infants reports
that more than half of babies are currently introduced to complementary foods,
that is, foods or drinks other than breast milk or formula, sooner than they
should be. Babies who were never breastfed or breastfed for less than four
months were most likely to be introduced to foods too early. These findings are
reported in the Journal of the Academy
of Nutrition and Dietetics
 and emphasise the need to introduce foods
at the proper time to get the most benefit from breast milk or formula.

“Introducing babies to complementary foods too early
can cause them to miss out on important nutrients that come from breast milk
and infant formula. Conversely, introducing them to complementary foods too
late has been associated with micronutrient deficiencies, allergies, and poorer
diets later in life,” explained lead investigator Chloe M. Barrera, MPH,
Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, National Center for
Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, Atlanta, GA.

Current recommendations stipulate that infants should be
introduced to complementary foods at around six months of age. Analysing data
from the 2009-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES),
investigators assessed the food intake of 1482 children aged six to 36 months,
gathered during household interviews with the child’s proxy, typically a
parent. The survey asked how old infants were when they were first fed anything
other than breast milk or formula. This includes juice, cow’s milk, sugar
water, baby food, or anything else that the infant might have been given, even

This analysis shows that only one-third (32.5%) of babies in
the US were introduced to complementary foods at the recommended time of about
six months; 16.3% were introduced to complementary foods before four months,
38.3% at four-five months, and 12.9% at seven or more months of age.

Over the last 60 years, recommendations for when to
introduce complementary foods have changed dramatically. The 1958 guidelines
suggested solid foods in the third month, the 1970s brought a delay until after
four months, and the 1990s pushed the introduction of solid food out to six
months. These changing recommendations have influenced many past studies of
infant nutrition, most of which show a general lack of adherence to current
professional guidelines, whatever they may be.

“Efforts to support caregivers, families, and
healthcare providers may be needed to ensure that  children are achieving recommendations on the
timing of food introduction,” commented Chloe Barrera and her
co-investigators from CDC. “Inclusion of children under two in the
2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans may promote consistent messaging of
when children should be introduced to complementary foods.”


 Reference: Chloe
M. Barrera. Timing of Introduction of Complementary Foods to US Infants,
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2014. Journal of the
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published 4 January 2018.