When should I start feeding my baby solid food? This is a questions most parents think about when their baby is 3-4 months old. The older generations insist you must start rice cereal around 3 months to help baby sleep better. Some even suggest putting rice cereal in baby’s bottle. Many people often think if baby is not sleeping all night long you should feed them solid food before they sleep. Some think you should wait until baby is 6-8 months to start solid food. Some people skip purees and go straight to food baby can feed themselves. With so many different opinions, it is hard to know what is the right thing to do.
Health experts and breastfeeding experts agree it is best to wait until baby is 6 months old before introducing solid food. The World Health Organization, UNICEF, American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as other organizations, recommend that baby be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. This means no juice, no cereal, nothing other than breastmilk. 6 months. Not 3-4 months, but 6 months. Why is this? When a baby is fed breastmilk exclusively for the first 6 months, baby will receive the highest level of immunity as possible. Another reason is baby’s digestive system is not ready to handle solid food until 6 months or so. Baby is not physically ready. A study done by Naylor & Morrow (2001) found, “These clinical reports indicate that the majority of normal full term infants are not developmentally ready for the transition from suckling to sucking or for managing semi-solids and solid foods in addition to liquids until between six and eight months of age.” By waiting to start solid food until 6 months of age, baby will be at a lower risk of obesity in the future.
Waiting to start solid food until baby is 6 months old is also beneficial to the breastfeeding mother. A mom that is exclusively breastfeeding until baby is 6 months old has a an easier time maintaining her milk supply. Another great advantage for the breastfeeding mother (my favorite one actually) is exclusively breastfeeding is very effective in preventing pregnancy during the first 6 months. This also means no pacifiers or bottles. All of baby’s sucking needs should be met at the breast.
Does something magical happen when baby turns 6 months old to make baby ready for solid food? Of course not! There are a few factors that play into when your baby is ready for solid food. Every baby is unique. Some of the signs baby is ready to start solid food are
- baby is at least 6 months old
- baby can sit up well without support
- baby has lost the tongue thrust reflex, which means they no longer push solids out of their mouth with their tongue, instead they move the food back toward their throat
- baby can chew
- baby is developing the pincer grasp, picking up food or other objects between the thumb and forefinger. This is different than the palmar grasp, where baby scraps objects into the palm of their hand.
- baby is wanting to participate at mealtime and tries to grab food to eat
Baby should be exhibiting all of these signs, not just one or two. Baby Sister has been wanting to participate in meal time since she was about 4 months old. Around this time she also started reaching for our food, plates and cups. She does not want to eat these objects, rather she wants to gum them because they are new objects to her. To include her in meal time we would have her sit on our laps. This worked well from about 3-4 months of age. Once she started reaching for everything, we gave her a spoon or toy to play with. Once Baby Sister was able to sit up on her own, around 5 months old, we tested out the high chair. Baby Sister does well in the high chair playing with toys for about 10 minutes, which is enough time for one of us to finish our meal and hold her again.
It is a very exciting thing, giving your baby solid food for the first time. My advise is, don’t rush it. Baby will be eating solid food for the rest of their life. Try to cherish the time where you are everything baby needs. This time is fleeting and short. Once baby has started solid food, do continue to breastfeed. Solid food should compliment breastfeeding, not the other way around. Pretty soon your baby will be running and playing and you (like me) will long for the time when baby wanted to snuggle and nurse.