For a very long time, families have wondered: What is the best age to introduce solid food to our infant?
Why? The thought has been that the earlier you introduce solid foods, the more food allergies the infant will have.
Now an important study on this question has been published in the January, 2010 issue of Pediatrics. The study is from Finland, where nearly 1000 children were observed from birth to age 5.
The study kept track of what age the kids started eating a variety of solid foods, and to what extent they were nursed.
Now, in Finland, solids tend to be started at an average age of 3.5 months old.
The order of foods is different than in the US.
In Finland it goes like this: potatoes, fruits and berries, carrots, cabbages, then cereals, meat, fish, and eggs. This whole sequence is introduced, on average, by 10.5 months of age.
In contrast in the US, we tend to start with cereals about 4-6 months of age, do a few pureed fruits and vegetables, and that’s about it until 12 months old. Very different.
In this study, a delay in introducing a solid food in Finland meant introducing potatoes over 4, oats over 5, rye over 7, wheat over 6, meat over 5.5, fish over 8.2, and egg over 10.5 months of age
Now here is what they found, at age 5 years old, if the food introduction was delayed in infancy:
- The later the introduction of solids, the more allergies at age 5
- Food allergies were more common with late egg, oat, and wheat
- Hay fever and asthma were more common with late potato, and fish
- Age of introduction of milk had little impact on any allergy
- Results were independent of parental history of any allergy types
- Breast-feeding had no impact towards or away from allergy
The authors cite data from the US, Germany, and UK that are in line with their observations.
As we have long stated at Advanced Pediatrics, the introduction of solids is not an important nutritional event. You can live on breast-milk and/or formula for a very long number of years.
And, for many years, we have been deeply skeptical that avoiding foods like berries, eggs, and milk will prevent developing allergies.
Well, it looks like the evidence is coming in, and it is leaning heavily towards starting solids early, and starting a wide variety of them.
By early we mean about 3.5 months old!
Think about a wide range, not just cereals, but be sure to introduce only purees to young infants, no one at any age should eat something they cannot chew and swallow.
Dr. Arthur Lavin