DEAR DOCTOR K:
I thought I knew what solid foods to give my baby, and when to give them. But the recommendations seem to change constantly. What do I need to know?
To make sure I had the most current information, I spoke to my colleague Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary care pediatrician at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital. She said that most dietary advice has remained the same. For example, wait until your baby is at least 4 months old before starting solids, and introduce one new food at a time.
But research has recently led to three big changes:
- Don’t give rice cereal. For many youngsters, their first foray into solid food was a spoonful of rice cereal. Pediatricians used to recommend it as a go-to starting food. But then the Consumer Products Safety Commission raised concern about the amount of arsenic in rice and rice products. (The rice plant is very good at pulling arsenic out of the soil.) Arsenic can cause many problems, including an increased risk of cancer. The commission’s report said that babies who get two servings of rice cereal a day could double their cancer risk over a lifetime. Until we know more, pass on the rice cereal. Opt for oatmeal or other types of baby cereal instead.
- Make fish part of your child’s diet. Fish is full of important nutrients. A study from Sweden showed that children who ate fish just twice a month during infancy had a 25 percent lower risk of allergies. The researchers followed the babies until they were 12 years old, and that reduction in risk was still there. Stick to fish that tends to be lower in mercury, such as tilapia, catfish or cod.
- Do give peanut products. This is a real turnaround. For years, doctors told parents not to give peanut products until children were 2 to 3 years old. The fear was that if kids were exposed to peanuts at too early an age, they would develop an allergy to peanuts later in life. But a recent study showed that giving peanut products early in life — between 4 and 11 months — can actually prevent peanut allergy. Talk to your baby’s doctor before giving peanut products if there is a family history of peanut allergy, or if your baby might be at higher risk of food allergies for another reason. And don’t give whole peanuts! They can get caught in the baby’s windpipe. Instead, products with ground peanuts — like peanut paste — are what to use.
Another recent study suggests that the lesson learned with peanuts may also apply for other foods to which kids develop allergies: eggs, cow’s milk, sesame nuts and oil, whitefish and wheat. Early exposure to these foods may lower the risk of allergies to them later on.
Every baby is different, and there are circumstances that might change your pediatrician’s advice for your child. Be sure to talk to your doctor to get the best advice for you and your child.