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When's the right time to introduce solids to babies? Although most public health officials now say six months of age, a new study in the journal Pediatrics suggests many parents aren't waiting that long to break out the pablum or the puréed veggies.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey of 1,334 mothers and found that 40 per cent said they gave their baby solids before they were four months old, The New York Times reports. Nine per cent of the mothers even reported starting their babies on food as early as four weeks of age.

While the recommendations once hovered in the four- to six-month range, pediatrician groups now urge exclusive breastfeeding to six months, followed by solid foods. As The New York Times reports, the American Academy of Pediatrics last year raised its guideline to six months to promote the health benefits of breastfeeding. Delayed first foods also may reduce the risk of conditions such as celiac disease and obesity – not to mention choking and digestive problems.

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The Pediatrics study found that parents explain early feeding with statements such as "my baby is old enough," "my baby seemed hungry," "I wanted my baby to sleep longer at night" and – most alarming to researchers, according to the Times – "a doctor or health care professional said my baby should begin eating solid food." In addition, poorer women who considered formula too expensive were more likely to turn to solid food early.

This news is just the latest twist in the continuing debate over feeding babies. Even if you know that waiting until six months is considered best, what the heck to feed the little one?

Here in Canada, much was made of revised Canadian Paediactric Society and Health Canada recommendations last fall that seemed to promote meat as a first food, sending many parents into a paroxym of fear about how to blend up steak or chicken in an appetizing way.

It turned out that the information had been "reformatted," according to a government e-mail mentioned in the CBC piece – and the bigger point was to ensure that babies ate iron-rich foods at six months, as their natural stores of it decline after birth.

So parents hoping to rely on iron-fortified rice or other cereal as a first food could breathe a sigh of relief. Unless, of course, they were students of other corners of the parenting universe which suggest skipping the cereal aisle and handing junior a pork chop or a chunk of steamed veg to gnaw on.

Just try keeping all that straight as a sleep-deprived parent of an infant.

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