the CDC finds that many babies are offered solid foods too early; mother-blaming ensues

Over 40% of US babies are fed solid foods before they’re 4 months old, and 9% are fed solids before they’re 4 weeks old, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published last week in the journal Pediatrics. This totally sucks for a number of reasons: for one thing, early introduction of solids is physically harmful to humans. It’s also depressing that the parents are often acting on premises that are not supported by evidence (that offering solids will lead to more restful nights or to ‘better’ weight gain, for instance).

The babies most likely to be affected are those in low-income families, who are up to their ears in health risks that aren’t their fault or their parents’ fault without adding in food they can’t even digest. After all, low-income parents are more likely than wealthier parents to get crappy advice and lack the privilege necessary to insist that they know better, lack social resources to help make sleepless nights bearable, and have a hard time affording formula (not to mention getting adequate breastfeeding support and accommodation).

Perhaps most alarmingly, the study found that over half of the babies receiving early solids did so on their doctors’ advice. This fact rings familiar to those of us who’ve felt sad for years about obstetricians’ and pediatricians’ woefully inadequate training in breastfeeding support and nutrition, but it still bites.

So, how does this study get reported in the media? “Mothers put babies’ health at risk by introducing solid foods too soon”! “Moms Serve Up Solid Food Too Soon, Study Finds”!

The study’s participants were mothers, so the mothers are doing the reporting–but that does not mean the mothers are (or ought to be, or must naturally be) doing all the feeding or all the deciding. When the researchers speculate that pediatricians may be basing their recommendations “on their own infant feeding experiences rather than evidence-based guidelines when counseling women,I speculate about why must imagine women as ultimately responsible for–and the only people showing up to be counseled about–infant feeding decisions and mistakes. Eric, who schedules all our family’s medical appointments, goes to regular checkups, has fed Simon at least 90% of his lifetime solid food intake, and was similarly involved with young Noah’s, read coverage of this study before I did and was pissed.

I realize that my family is the exception to the rule and that most mothers really do get stuck with all this responsibility and work. But how can that ever change if those of us who are different remain invisible and somehow unreal?

And how are “mothers put[ting] babies’ health at risk by introducing solid foods too soon” if most of them are just following doctors’ orders?

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2 Comments

  1. Posted 2 April 2013 at 12:29 PM | Permalink

    Thank you for this. On the whole I find medical doctors uninformed, non-scientific, and extremely inconsistent. Why are there not extremely simple, clear, guidelines for feeding babies that are available to parents and reinforced in a consistent way by doctors. I have a wonderful doctor trained in family medicine. He told me introducing solids was pointless and bad for my twins based on science. I think your point is right on that this is mother-blaming and missing the point – why are doctors giving poor medical advice!

  2. erin
    Posted 4 April 2013 at 5:35 PM | Permalink

    The same is true of formula as well as many childbirth interventions, and these are also always reported as being about “women’s choices”. The role of physicians and their unbelievably bad, non-evidence based “advice” is never discussed. Like when they blame women for rising C-section rates; apparently women always “choose” their elective C. And it’s not just terrible headlines, but the focus on the articles is on the mothers, even when the article makes it perfectly clear that physicians are a huge part of the problem.

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