Eating Grains Early

November 04, 2010

Start infants eating grains early

A recent study in Pediatrics suggests that waiting to introduce babies to cereal grains might not be a good idea if parents want to prevent food allergies. Babies who waited to eat grains until after six months of age more likely to develop wheat allergies, researchers report.

"At Children's we follow the guidelines of starting single grain cereals between 4 to 6 months of age, as long as the child is developmentally ready for solids," said Mary Susan Spears, a clinical and registered dietitian at Children's Medical Center Dallas.

Spears says that prior to introducing solid food, a child should be able to hold her neck steady when sitting with support and should draw in her lower lip when a spoon is removed from her mouth.

There has been controversy about when to expose babies to cereal grains, which are typically the first foods that babies eat after breast-feeding.

Some specialists recommend cereal grains be introduced after six months of age, while others advise that they be given between four and six months.

Study findings

Food allergies are becoming more common among U.S. children, affecting an estimated 3 percent to 6 percent of all children. Wheat allergies are among the top five allergies, which also include egg, milk, soy and peanut allergies.

The new study revealed that children who were first exposed to cereals (wheat, barley, rye and oats) after six months were nearly four times more likely to have developed an allergy than those who first ate cereals earlier.

The risk of wheat allergy also went up by 1.6 times if the child was exposed to rice cereal after six months of age and by nearly four times if a parent or sibling had asthma, eczema, or hives, the researchers found.

Spears is not surprised by the findings. "The best indicator that a child might develop a food allergy is a history of eczema, asthma or family history of these conditions," Spears said.

The study confirms the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends parents introduce cereal grains between four and six months of age.