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Harvard Commentaries
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Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

A Parent's Life A Parent's Life

New Advice About Giving Solid Foods to Infants

April 17, 2013

By Claire McCarthy

All parents look forward to starting their babies on solid foods. It's so much fun to use a spoon and try out different foods.

For many years, doctors told parents to give a baby only breast milk or formula until about 6 months of age. And they were to delay starting some foods for fear of causing food allergies.

Based on new research, that advice is changing.

In November 2012, the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology published a study showing that giving wheat, rye, oat or barley cereals before 5.5 months decreased the risk of future asthma and allergies.

The same study also found that starting fish before 9 months and egg before 11 months also cut down the risk of asthma and allergies. These are both foods that parents had previously been told not to give their infant in the first year.

One early food to avoid is rice cereal. A recent article published in Consumer Reports found that many brands contain arsenic. It comes from pesticides that get into the soil. The rice plant is very good at pulling the possibly toxic chemical from the soil. Because of this, it's best to avoid rice cereal and limit rice and rice products (such as rice milk or rice crackers).

It is still true that babies shouldn't be given solids before 4 months or until they can:

  • Sit in a baby chair
  • Have good head control
  • Take soft foods easily off a spoon without choking or pushing them back out

And feeding solids too soon can get in the way of breastfeeding.

If you ever have questions about whether your baby is ready, talk to your doctor.

Breast milk is still the perfect first food for babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that ideally, all babies should get breast milk, not formula, for at least the first 6 months of life, preferably the first year. If mothers can't breastfeed that long they should do it for as long as they can. Every little bit can make a difference. A great resource for breastfeeding information and support is the website of the La Leche League.

Your best resource for all your information about feeding your baby is your doctor. Talk to him or her early and often to find out what you should do to keep your baby healthy now — and in the future.

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Claire McCarthy, M.D., a senior medical editor for Harvard Health Publications, is an assistant professor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She is an attending physician and Medical Communications Editor at Children's Hospital Boston.



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