Q. I have a 3-month-old granddaughter. She is getting only breast milk and is still waking in the middle of the night to be breast-fed. I recommended starting rice cereal to help her sleep, but my daughter said her pediatrician advised against this. When is the best time to start baby food?
A. Advice for infant nutrition has changed throughout the years. In the 1970s, rice cereal was introduced at around 4 weeks of age. This is drastically different from today’s recommendations. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates exclusive breast-feeding until 6 months of age for optimal infant nutrition. Solids can typically be safely introduced between 4 and 6 months – once a baby has good head control and can sit up with little support.
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Studies have shown many benefits to delaying the introduction of solids, including obesity prevention, decreased allergies and better overall nutrition. Breast milk is the best source of fat and protein for a rapidly growing infant. In the past, people have believed that introducing rice cereal would help an infant to sleep longer, but this is a myth.
As long as a baby is gaining weight well, introduction of solids should be delayed until close to 6 months of age. In situations where breast milk supply or weight gain is marginal, supplemental nutrition with either infant formula or solids may be recommended at a younger age.