- Family and Parenting
Weaning Baby Too Early Could Cause Obesity, Diabetes and Many Other Autoimmune Diseases
There have always been conflicting opinions on how soon to wean your baby. Guidelines often alter, which can leave new mums confused; especially if this isn’t their first baby and advice has changed since their last birth.
When I had my daughter way back in 1981 I was advised to begin weaning when she was 12 weeks old but told that I could give her baby rice from 8 weeks. My son, who was born in 1992 was weaned at 4 months. My granddaughters born in 2006 and 2009 were both weaned at 6 months and fully breast fed until then.
In a study carried out by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. 1344 new mothers were surveyed about what stage they introduced solid food to their offspring. The findings were that a shocking 9% had offered solids before four weeks of age. At least 40% were feeding solid food before four months and a whopping 93% before 6 months.
They found that babies who were weaned before 6 months of age were more likely to suffer with autoimmune diseases and obesity.
The study mentioned above also found that the mums of formula fed babies were far more likely to introduce solid food early than those who breast fed.
Age Started Weaning
Less than 4 weeks
Less than 4 months
Less than 6 months
What is Autoimmune Disease?
An autoimmune disease is a chronic disease that effectively makes the body attack itself by producing antibodies to its own tissues. There are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases including:
- Type 1 Diabetes
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Crohn’s Disease
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Multiple Sclerosis
Potential Problems Caused by Weaning Too Early
Now new research has come to light which suggests that weaning a baby fed on formula milk before 6 months of age carries a 1:4 chance of obesity before they are three years old.
This is not the case for breastfed babies where the risk factor is much lower at 1:14. This could be because breastfeeding itself seems to keep the general risk of obesity at bay because breastmilk is so digestible and is not stored as fat.
Mothers think that they are doing the baby a favour when they start supplementing formula with cereals to ‘thicken’ it and ‘make it more nourishing’. They are under the impression that baby will grow faster and be healthier. What they are actually doing is loading them with extra calories they don’t need. Exactly as an adult will get fat by ingesting more calories than they expend; so will the baby.
Guidelines in the UK are that mother’s should try to fully breastfeed their baby until he/she is 6 months old.
Early weaning (before the age of 6 months) has a connection to the development of Type 1 Diabetes in pre-school age children. I believe this is due to attack on the immature pancreas by gluten containing foods such as wheat, rye, barley or oats. There has been some research into this but unfortunately it is not very well documented.
- Coeliac Disease
Again, gluten containing food introduction before 6 months is implicated in the development of Coeliac Disease. If babies are introduced to these before the age of six months studies show that the risk of Coeliac Disease is increased.
Research conducted by Uppsala and Umea Universities in Sweden found that babies were 50% more likely to develop coeliac disease in later life if they had 3 or more colds, fevers or infections such as measles or chicken pox in their first six months of life. Babies who had also suffered from a gastric infection had an 80% increased risk of suffering coeliac disease.
If the same infants who had suffered multiple infections in their first 6 months were breastfed when they were first introduced to gluten containing foods, their risk of developing coeliac disease was lessened. Babies who had been weaned to formula milk or cow’s milk before their exposure to gluten had the same increased risk to the disease.
- Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis
Collectively known as IBD or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, these diseases are largely due to food sensitivity or intolerance. They are chronic diseases which remit and relapse. The main symptoms are bleeding, pain and diarrhoea. Food tolerance is formed at weaning by the activation of T cells that provide an inflammatory reaction, which under normal circumstances results in tolerance to the food. If too much food containing gluten or sugar is given to a baby too early, intolerance or sensitivity can occur.
Allergies can develop if a baby is weaned from formula milk too early especially if there is a familial history of allergy. Breast fed babies will have more immunity from allergies as they may have ingested small quantities of potential allergens in their mother’s milk.
That said; the jury is still out on this one as some studies show that early weaning reduces the chance of allergies developing in some cases. Conversely evidence exists that shows immunity acquired through breastmilk lasts for many years.
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Gluten seems to be the culprit in most of these disorders. It is thought to be a main trigger for many autoimmune diseases including Coeliac Disease and Autoimmune Thyroiditis.
If you are still determined to wean your baby early it may be wise to avoid gluten and sugar containing foods until he/she is more than 6 months old. However I would not recommend feeding commercially produced gluten free products at this early age. Pureed vegetables and fruits in small quantities and grains which do not contain gluten such as Quinoa may be more suitable. Personally I would rather leave weaning until after the six month stage to be on the safe side.
Baby Led Weaning
Weaning shouldn’t be forced. If baby doesn’t seem interested yet; don’t push the issue. Take the food away and try again in a few days. A lot of mums these days are practicing what is known as baby led weaning where the infant feeds himself from the off. Do not allow your baby to do this until they are at least six months old because their digestive tract isn’t sufficiently mature to cope with lumps, also they may choke. If baby likes what you place in its hand it will eat it; if it doesn’t it will reject it.
© Susan Bailey 2013 All Rights Reserved