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When my son was approaching 6 months old, it seemed like he was ready for real food. And I was ready for him to start—I was really looking forward to the milestone of solids! My husband and I took a video of my son the first morning we gave him cereal mixed with breast milk. In it, he’s seems genuinely interested in trying to get the new food in his mouth—and in the background you can hear me enthusiastically saying, “Look, he likes it!”
While I waited for almost the full six months recommended by experts and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to start my son on solids, I can understand why some parents might not. According to a new study published in Pediatrics this week, researchers found that out of 1334 mothers, slightly more than 40 percent introduced solid foods before 4 months. According to the study, the most common reasons for introducing solid foods earlier than 4 months were “My baby was old enough,” “My baby seemed hungry,” and “It would help my baby sleep longer at night.”
I can certainly relate to the last reason. My son was a terrible sleeper and my mother-in- law suggested I put some cereal in a bottle to help him sleep. Even though my pediatrician had cautioned me against it, I was tempted to do just that after one too many nights of waking up every three hours to nurse a fussy baby. I was also always worried that my son wasn’t getting enough to eat so if he had been more enthusiastic about eating earlier, I likely would have fed him as much as he wanted. But, according to the study, introducing solid foods too early increases a child’s risk for obesity, diabetes and eczema.
In the end, my son really took to eating after he passed the 6-month-old mark. We started introducing cereal every day, then puréed sweet potatoes and apples and peas. It was so fun to see his reaction to each new taste and, honestly, he would try just about anything. That seemed to come to a screeching halt around his second birthday and now, at 3 ½, he has a few things he really likes (raisins, strawberries and PB&J are some of his favorites), but mostly he just looks at something new and says, “I don’t like that.” But he’s a great sleeper now, so I can deal with the resistance. It’s way easier to try and sell a 3-year-old on the yummy taste of spaghetti and meatballs when you’ve had a good night’s rest.