Early feeding of the solid foods to babies – Can it be harmful?

Introduction

The timing of the introduction of the solid food for the first time to an infant not only affects the child’s health but may also show potential effects on a long term basis. The increasing rate of food allergies during the early childhood shows that children are suffering from the defects in the immune tolerance mechanisms. Pediatricians across the world suggest that when the baby is 4-6 months old, it is ideal to introduce solid foods or weaning foods for the first time. The reasoning is, when the child reaches this age, he/she is able to hold his/ her head upright and open the mouth when food is brought nearby. But unfortunately, many parents take a wrong decision of introducing solid foods at a very early age. Various research studies have shown that early introduction of solid foods and early weaning from breast milk are closely related to Type I diabetes. This article explains how early introduction of solid foods can lead to type I diabetes during adulthood.

Nutritional Requirements of a Child

It is very important to take care of a child’s nutritional requirement during the early stages of life. Inadequate nutrition or excess of nutritional supplements can both show long term affects on an individual’s health. An accelerated overgrowth due to over nutrition is not considered to be healthy, as it can lead to a galore of problems during adulthood. Many parents introduce solid foods too early with the hope that their babies can grow fast. This ignorant decision can lead to many problems like glucose intolerance, obesity, raised blood pressure and dyslipidaemia during adulthood. Other reasons like solid food may keep the child asleep for a longer duration; baby liked the food taken by mother etc, stand nowhere when compared to the health impacts of early introduction of solid foods. The child’s digestive tract might get damaged, as it is not completely developed to accept solid foods during the early stages of life. Due to this, the stomach might get upset and the baby may suffer from problems like constipation, or release gas. When the babies are fed too early with baby cereals, they show an increased tendency to get choked as they cannot sit upright and control their gag reflex.

Early Feeding of Solid Foods and Diabetes

Type I diabetes is a chronic immune-mediated disease, during which insulin-secreting pancreatic β-cells are destroyed. The factors which destroy the pancreatic cells include autoreactive T-lymphocytes, macrophages, autoantibodies produced against antigen p69, glutamate decarboxylase (GAD), cytoplasmatic islet cell antigen (ICA) and insulin (IAA). These autoantibodies to the islet cells, or islet autoimmunity (IA), can be present many years prior to the diagnosis of type 1 Diabetes Mellitus.

Epidemiological studies have shown that both genetic and environmental factors determine the occurrence of type I diabetes. Well known environmental agents which act as diabetogenic factors, when encountered during the first years of life, include cow's milk, wheat proteins, dietary vitamin D and fish oil. Studies have shown that the chances of occurrences of type I diabetes is relatively high when these substances are introduced at a very early stages as supplementary foods. These substances act as food-related antigens which trigger the disease process or the synthesis of the autoantibodies to the islet cells. More specifically, various proteins in cow’s milk have been found to be immunogenic determinants of type I diabetes. Cow’s milk is a widely accepted food source across the world, but a research conducted at international TRIGR trial (Trial to Reduce Diabetes in the Genetically at Risk) shows that hydrolyzed products of cow’s milk proteins were better digested by infants and they shows reduced chances of developing islet cell antibodies. This study shows that the intact milk proteins are not well accepted by infants. Moreover, milk sold in packets as cow’s milk passes through multiple stages of processing. The long term impacts of these processing techniques on the infant health are yet to be researched.

A research in China has shown that consumption of soy milk formula at 4–6 months of age or 7–12 months of age can increase the risk of type I diabetes by twofold. Similarly, consumption of vegetables at 4–6 months of age also increased the chances of this disease. This research suggests that it is very important to introduce solid food or external milk at the right time.

Solution to This Problem

The only solution to this problem is to avoid feeding infants with solid foods until they reach the age of 6 months. Breast feeding should be encouraged and in situations where breast feed cannot be provided, formula milk should be provided to babies till they are 6 months. Health care professionals should be made aware of the dangers related to the early feeding, so that they can spread this knowledge to every pregnant woman.

My Sources of Information

Lanigan J and Singhal, A. Early nutrition and long-term health: a practical approach. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (2009), 68, 422–429.

Strotmeyera, E, S. et al. Infant diet and type 1 diabetes in China. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice (2004). 65 (3), 283–292.

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