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Healthy Kids : Breast-Fed Babies Are Less Picky

Blythe Bernhard

--Babies who only consume breast milk in their first six months grow into less picky eaters as toddlers, according to research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Juhee Kim of the university's kinesiology and community health department looked at data from nutrition surveys of 129 mothers to determine whether the amount of breast-feeding and the introduction of solid foods influenced preschoolers' food choices.

Kim and her partners found that toddlers who had been exclusively breast-fed for six months were 81 percent less likely to reject foods compared with other preschoolers. The children also were less likely to prefer food that was prepared one way over any other and more willing to try a variety of foods.

The breast-feeding effect on food choices extended to a lesser degree to those preschoolers who were exclusively breast-fed for three months. Any amount of breast-feeding led to less picky eaters compared to children who were fed formula, Kim said.

"National dietary guidelines promote eating more fruits and vegetables, but oftentimes those are the foods least liked by children, especially young children," Kim said in a statement. "If mothers breast-feed exclusively for the first six months, the children are less likely to reject fruits and vegetables (when they get older)."

The flavor of breast milk can vary depending on the mother's diet, and researchers believe that breast-fed babies develop a more varied palate because of the changes in taste. It's also thought to be the reason why children initially prefer the popular foods of their culture.

The researchers also found a correlation between children's eating habits and the time when they were first fed solid foods. Babies who started eating solids before 4 months old were nearly four times more likely to eat a limited diet or develop a fear of new foods as toddlers. Babies who started eating solids before 6 months were more than twice as likely to reject new foods later.

It's thought that introducing solid foods too early can upset a baby's still-developing digestive system, Kim said.

Parents of children who are not breast-fed can reduce their child's chances of being a picky eater by holding off on introducing solid foods until the baby is 6 months old, she said.

Although pediatricians recommend that babies are exclusively breast-fed through the first six months of life, it's estimated that just 15 percent of American mothers follow that advice.

Kim's study was published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association last fall.

(c)2012 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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