Many of you will have well-meaning family members, friends, and even trusted pediatricians who will encourage you to begin giving your little one solid foods* around the age of 3 or 4 months (or unfortunately, sometimes even earlier!) In the past, this was a traditional practice. Current research, however, has shown us that it is important to delay solids until baby is at least 6 months old.
The following organizations recommend that baby should have nothing but breastmilk (or formula) until they are 6 months old:
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Academy of Family Physicians
- World Health Organization
- Health Canada
- Australian National Health and Medical Research Council
WHY should you wait to start solids?
Babies have an open gut:
Prior to around 6 months of age, baby’s digestive tract is not mature enough to handle solid foods. The gut is still “open” prior to this time, and it closes somewhere around the age of 6 months. If a baby is given solid foods before the gut is mature (“closed”), they will not be capable of digesting them properly, which can cause upset stomach, gas, constipation, and even bloody stools.
There are risks to introducing solids prior to 6 months:
- Early introduction of solids has been shown to increase the risk for food allergies.
- Early introduction of solid foods can lead to iron-deficiency anemia.
- Early introduction of solids is associated with an increased risk of obesity.
- Introducing solids prior to 6 months of age is associated with a higher risk of respiratory illnesses, ear infections,allergic diseases, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and even SIDS.
Furthermore, there is zero evidence that there are any benefits to starting solids prior to 6 months of age.
Age is not the only factor in deciding when to begin solids.
In addition to being 6 months or older, the following requirements should be met prior to beginning feeding solids:
- Is able to sit up unassisted without being propped up, strapped up, or put in a special seat
- No longer has a tongue thrust reflex (this is the natural reflex where babies push food out of their mouth with their tongue – many people who introduce solids early will say “my baby spits out everything I feed him” – he’s not spitting it out, mom is eliciting baby’s protective tongue thrust reflex!)
- Has a pincher grasp and/or can move objects to their mouth with their hands
- Can push the chest up when laid face down
- Has shown an interest in food
- Has the ability, in some way, to communicate “no” to you (whether using body, hands, mouth, or words)
- Having teeth is preferred but certainly not required for starting solids.
But my baby is interested in what I’m eating!
A normally developing infant will start to be interested and curious about their surroundings prior to 6 months. This may mean that your baby is grabbing at your food or mimicking you when you eat. These behaviors, which ofter occur around 3-4 months of age, are a part of baby’s social development, though, and not a sign of food readiness. While it is important not to force the introduction of solids before a baby shows interest, it is also important not to use baby’s level of interest as your only guide for readiness.
So, when should you start solids?
It is best to start solids once baby has reached 6 months of age AND is showing ALL of the readiness signs listed above. For some babies, this will be right at 6 months of age, and for others this may occur around 7-9 months of age. Don’t rush the process, and enjoy the breastfeeding journey that leads up to this special milestone.
*for the purpose of this article, the term “solid foods” refers to any food that is not breastmilk or formula, including baby cereals, purees, and table foods.