Throughout history, the age at which babies were introduced to solid food has shifted many times. In 1880, it was common for babies not to be fed solid food until 11-months-old, but by 1950, that age had plummeted to just 6-weeks-old. This stark shift coincides with the introduction and marketing of commercial baby food.
Baby food as we know it (jars of sweet potatoes or pouches of rice cereal) didn’t really exist in most households until the 1930s. Gerber’s Baby Foods (a former canning company) began marketing their canned baby food to doctors and paediatricians to help persuade parents to buy their wares.
Their ad campaigns also included messaging to convince mothers that homemade baby food was not as safe and that slaving over a hot stove was not good for them or their babies.
The advertising worked and doctors and paediatricians began convincing mothers that the sooner they started solids the better. In the 1950s, Florida paediatrician Dr Walter Sackett recommended that newborns be given cereal in hospital, right after birth, vegetable purees on day 10, meat at 4-weeks
...and black coffee by 6-weeks. He argued that this "helped babies conform better to daily life and let them know right away that they aren’t the boss.”
In the 1970s, the medical community identified that the early introduction of solid food was replacing the use of breast milk and formula, which doctors had now recognised as highly beneficial. In 1990 over 70% of US families fed their babies solids before 3-months-old, only 6% waited until after 4 months.
Today, in 2021, the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age with continued breastfeeding alongside appropriate complementary foods up to 2 years of age or longer.
Over the years scientists and doctors have suggested some (what now seem like) strange things regarding starting solids. No doubt they were doing what they thought was the best at the time. That’s the beauty of science though - once we know better, we change, and do better.
What interesting things have you heard from family or friends about when and how to introduce solids?
References: Bentley 2014; Hospital Topics 1960