Pressured to Start Solids Too Soon?

by Christine Albury

When you have a baby -- particularly your first -- a little advice from friends and family can be very useful. But when it comes to feeding your little one, the advice you receive may conflict with that given by your pediatrician. So what do you do when the advice begins to feel like criticism -- or even pressure?

Many medical authorities worldwide, including UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that babies receive only breast milk or infant formula for the first 6 months of life. But previous generations of parents received quite different advice and those same parents -- now grandparents -- may be somewhat dismissive -- or even contemptuous -- of current guidelines. They may tell you that YOU were given solid foods from 6 weeks of age and that YOU'VE suffered no ill effects. How do you respond to this?

First, you can simply state that you prefer to follow the recommendations given by your child's pediatrician, which have changed significantly in the last few years. But it may also be worth elaborating on this a little, by explaining the reasoning behind current guidelines.

Huge amounts of research have been carried out in the field of infant nutrition since our parents were raising us. Studies have shown that both breast milk and infant formula provide babies with adequate nutrition for the first 6 months -- and that starting solids before 6 months significantly increases the risk of babies developing food allergies and the likelihood of obesity.

This isn't the only area of baby care for which guidelines have changed, of course, and quoting a few examples of other major differences can really help get your point across...

In the past, parents were advised to place infants on their tummies to sleep. Research showed that this practice could contribute to SIDS (or cot death). So the recommendations were changed, advising parents to place infants on their backs instead -- the number of deaths due to SIDS dropped dramatically as a result.

Drinking and smoking during pregnancy were considered perfectly acceptable, but are now known to contribute to premature birth, birth defects and low birth weight.

Mothers were not actively encouraged to breastfeed and were often given injections to dry up their milk supply. Now we know that breas tmilk is the best source of infant nutrition. And formula fed babies in the past were given evaporated milk formulas, which contained sugar and lacked the vitamins and iron we now know a baby needs. Because these formulas were so nutritionally inadequate, solid foods were often necessary from as early as one month of age, to provide babies with the nutrients they needed.

As these examples demonstrate, changes in infant nutrition have had a positive impact on babies' health -- so the recommendations of your pediatrician, based on the latest research, should not be taken lightly.

If you continue to feel pressure to start solid foods too early, then it's important to state your position firmly and calmly. This is your baby and, with the guidance of your pediatrician, it is up to you to make decisions that will impact on your baby's health.

Don't be swayed by the suggestion that the early introduction of solids will solve any problems you may be experiencing with your baby waking frequently at night. Starting solids too soon may actually have the opposite effect to the one you're hoping for -- your baby's immature digestive system may struggle to cope with new foods and the resulting discomfort may cause him to wake MORE often at night!

When your parenting philosophies are being challenged in this way, a good tip is to try joining a forum for other like-minded parents. This is an excellent way to reinforce your beliefs and forums are great places to "let off steam," without affecting those close to you.

If you're dealing with criticism from your parents or in-laws, then make sure that you and your partner present a united front! But do remember that -- as unwelcome as their advice might be -- these comments are also an indication of their concern for your baby's welfare. Grandparents can play a very special role in your children's lives and it is important to nurture and preserve this valuable relationship. So be as kind as possible -- a careful combination of tact, firmness and confidence, plus an acknowledgement of how much you value their interest in your baby's life -- will ensure that you can pursue the parenting style you choose, with no one's feelings being hurt!

Christine Albury is a mother of four and the author of Homemade Baby Food Recipes -- your complete guide to solid feeding during baby's first year. Christine has written for many other parenting sites and a regional UK magazine. Homemade Baby Food Recipes, which was recently featured by the BBC, includes a very active blog and a free monthly newsletter.

Copyright © Christine Albury. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.