Nearly half of Kiwi babies are being introduced to food earlier or later than recommended, putting at them at greater risk of health problems such as obesity, anaemia and developmental issues.

The findings were revealed in new research from Growing Up in New Zealand – the country’s largest longitudinal study of child development – recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Researchers found that 43.5% of 5770 babies in the study were not introduced to solids at the age recommended by the Ministry of Health: 40.2% early ( seven months).

New research, from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study, found more than 43% of babies in the representative survey were started on solids either sooner or later than recommended guidelines.

New research, from the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study, found more than 43% of babies in the representative survey were started on solids either sooner or later than recommended guidelines.

New Zealand guidelines recommend that babies should be introduced to solids from about six-months: a developmental stage at which babies start to need a wider variety of nutrition sources.

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Research co-author, University of Auckland Professor Clare Wall said that while breastmilk or formula alone supply an infant’s nutritional needs until six-months, other foods are also needed in conjunction beyond this.

“We know that nutrition in the first year of life not only impacts growth and development in that period, but also can influence longer-term health trajectories.”

University of Auckland Professor and research co-author Dr Clare Wall said she hopes the findings of the study can help raise awareness about feeding best practice, and inform future policy about targeting support to mothers and whānau.

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University of Auckland Professor and research co-author Dr Clare Wall said she hopes the findings of the study can help raise awareness about feeding best practice, and inform future policy about targeting support to mothers and whānau.

Research shows babies introduced to food earlier than recommended may be at increased risk of developing gastrointestinal infections.

Meanwhile, introducing food too late can cause impaired growth and development – potentially due to a shortage of vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and vitamin A. There is also an increased risk of food allergies if infants are not exposed to certain foods before 12 -months.

Forty-six per cent of caregivers delayed introducing meat and alternatives, and 1 in 10 babies were not introduced fruit and vegetables until after seven-months.

Childhood obesity was also related to both early and late food introduction.

Auckland mum-of-two, Olivia Sinclair, said moving to solids was a significant rite of passage every parent goes through, and many felt “quite a lot of pressure to get it right”.

Even as a pediatric dietitian at Starship Children’s Hospital, Sinclair said making sense of the myriad of messages parents get about feeding was challenging.

Pediatric dietitian and mum-of-two Olivia Sinclair with nine-month-old son, Logan.  Sinclair said parents are bombarded with messaging and information about moving to solids, and feel a lot of pressure to get it right.

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Pediatric dietitian and mum-of-two Olivia Sinclair with nine-month-old son, Logan. Sinclair said parents are bombarded with messaging and information about moving to solids, and feel a lot of pressure to get it right.

Sinclair said the process was different with each of her sons, aged nine months and 2.5 years.

Her eldest son was showing cues of being ready – looking at and trying to grab and eat food she was eating, and good head control – by five-months, a little earlier than the six-month guideline. Her second son however needed more time.

Sinclair said that at the end of the day, every baby and family’s experience was going to be different, and it was important that guidance on this was culturally responsive and accessible for all.

The six-month guideline was important for a number of reasons, and she encouraged parents to read their baby’s cues and do what works for them – such as adapting the foods a family is already eating.

Wall said while the six-month guideline was widely communicated – through Plunket, for example – it was important to ensure equitable access to and funding of services which support whānau, to enure the message gets out to everyone.

She also hoped that the findings will help inform policy, and raise awareness about feeding guidelines.

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