The open gut. It's open for the first four to six months of life to allow as many antibodies and healthful particles through from breastmilk to pass into the body as possible. It naturally closes around 6 months, but introducing solids causes it to close prematurely to protect the body from harmful allergenic particles, also cutting down the amount of helpful antibodies that baby gets (which are still plentiful, but it lowers immunity and increases risk of allergies). THAT is the reason to wait at least six months to introduce solids--our bodies aren't designed for them in the first six months (things that do not enter the stomach should not be counted, such as teething tablets, gas drops, vitamin drops, etc.). What's more, several digestive enzymes aren't formed until six months:
"The pancreatic enzyme amylase does not reach adequate levels for digestion of starches until around 6 months, and carbohydrate enzymes such as maltase, isomaltase, and sucrase do not reach adult levels until around 7 months. Young infants also have low levels of lipase and bile salts, so fat digestion does not reach adult levels until 6-9 months. "
On a food level, spinach, broccoli and carrots contain nitrites that cannot be converted in a 4 month old's gut into a safer substance and can (and have) cause(d) nitrite poisoning. What's more, most people use rice cereal as a first food, which is linked to food protein induced enterocolitis syndrome (symptoms typically include vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), dehydration and low-blood pressure. The child or infant can appear lethargic, and over time can have problems gaining weight. Hospitalization for possible severe infection in common in children with FPIES).
While it's the BMJ itself that warns against rice cereal, it has not received the media attention that this is receiving and it's irresponsible to recommend early solid introduction (which, btw, they're still not recommending before four months) when most people are still using useless and potentially dangerous rice cereal as a first food--because it's still recommended by many 'authorities' and most pediatricians.
On a personal note, I got solids at 3 months old (from my mom's plate) and I have food allergies, a strong distaste for leafy greens, and used to have chronic anemia... the things that this article says happen because of waiting six months. So, on a purely personal anecdotal level, I have to call b.s. (admittedly, anecdote =/= science).
My first grabbed her first solid by reaching over and just biting my nectarine while I was on the phone, lol, right about her 6m birthday. That is a clear display of solid readiness. My second's tongue-thrust reflex didn't vanish until almost 9 months, though she had access to the food starting a little after she turned 6 months and she did try. She choked constantly and just wasn't ready. A good rule of thumb is, "If the parent needs to use a spoon, it's too soon." If your child cannot feed him/herself, they aren't ready for solids. Most six month olds can even use a spoon if shown how to properly, if you insist on pureed/mashed foods. It's better to just start with soft, whole foods.
While I agree with not waiting to introduce allergens into the diet (another recommendation within their article), it should be done through breast milk first and first foods should be what the family is eating anyway. Exposure reduces allergens--once the body is ready for exposure. However, a child who has shown a clear allergy to a food (from the telltale red 'ring' around the anus to full out anaphylactic shock) should not continue being exposed to that food in the first year. Both of my girls had early food intolerances (my oldest was strawberries--this vanished around 14 months and my youngest was to spinach and broccoli--which also vanished between 13-15 months... my youngest presented with signs through breast milk exposure and my oldest had no signs until she ate a strawberry at 8 months).
Finally,the following organizations recommend that all babies be exclusively breastfed (no cereal, juice or any other foods) for the first 6 months of life (not the first 4-6 months):
- World Health Organization
- US Department of Health & Human Services
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Academy of Family Physicians
- American Dietetic Association
- Australian National Health and Medical Research Council
- Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
- Health Canada
(original content having been moved):
So, bloggers are up in arms against an article from the Guardian "Six months of breastfeeding alone could harm babies, scientists now say". It's based on an article written for the British Medical Journal by people whose research was paid for by formula companies and babyfood companies. Conflict of interest much? They defend themselves by saying that they are recommending real food, such as fresh food and meat, and not baby food, but so few people give their babies real food from the get go that if they believe that, then they're deluding themselves. However, the study doesn't really say as much as the article indicates.
They are flying in the face of their own World Health Organisation's recommendation of: "exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life is recommended and breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond (with the introduction of solids from 6 months) is beneficial."
So, most bloggers are tackling discrediting these guys for their affiliations (and at least this one tried to take them seriously) or talking about the signs of readiness for introduction of solids. (Which you can find here as well)
Now, personally, I do baby led weaning, which is giving baby real foods from the start based on physiological signs of readiness and age-based readiness. However, what's bothering me and prompting me to write this is that while everyone's pointing out why it's better to wait, an important reason why it's dangerous not to wait it being left out.