Feeding your baby solid food is a fun milestone to reach. There are many opinions on when baby should start eating solid food. Some say as early as 4 months old. Many studies have shown us that it is important to wait until baby is at least 6 months old to start solid foods. While baby may seem like they are ready, developmentally, for solid food before 6 months, science has shown us that baby’s body is NOT ready.
It is important to wait until baby is at least 6 months old to introducing solid food. This is because Baby’s digestive system is not ready for solid food until at least 6 months old. When babies are born they have what is referred to as an “open gut.” This means there are spaces in between the cells of the small intestines that readily allow intact macromolecules, like whole proteins and pathogens, to pass directly into baby’s bloodstream. This is perfect for breastmilk as it allows the beneficial antibodies to pass directly into baby’s bloodstream. This also means that larger proteins from solid food and disease causing pathogens pass right through as well. During the first 6 months when the gut is open, the antibodies in breastmilk oat baby;s digestive tract and provide passive immunity. Baby’s body starts producing these antibodies on their own around 6 months and the gut closure occurs as well.
If we offer solid foods before baby’s body is ready to accept them we can cause unpleasant reactions such as gas, constipation and upset stomach. There have been many studies that show there is no benefit to introducing solids before 6 months of age. These same studies show, for a percentage of babies, starting solid food between 4-6 months old can be detrimental. To err on the side of caution wait until baby is 6 months old. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends waiting until around 6 months of age to introduce solid food.
Many babies show interest in food around 4-5 months of age. This is normal and does not mean baby is ready to start eating solid foods. Around 4-5 months old baby is realizing there are more things going on around them. Let baby participate in mealtime. Hold baby and make them part of the dinner conversation. When they can sit in a high chair, give them a spoon, bowl or cup. Baby does not necessarily want food, baby wants to be a part of the activity.
Baby’s weight, size and sleeping (or not) through the night are not indications of baby’s readiness to eat. Many babies wake at night. It is perfectly normal to have a baby that wakes every 2 hours at night, even at 4-5 months of age. This is not a sign that baby needs to eat more. Baby will sleep through the night one day, I promise! Breast milk alone can sustain a baby for at least 8-9 months of age. Exclusively breastfeeding, without giving any food, is encouraged for at least 6 months.
Around 6 months of age babies typically stop using their tongues to push things out of their mouth. They begin to develop the coordination to move solid food from the front of their mouth to the back, which is ideal for swallowing. Babies bodies are telling them they are not ready for food. We need to wait until baby’s body is ready.
2 years ago, when Baby Sister was almost 6 months old, I wrote an article with more information about the health benefits to Mom, the breastfeeding relationship and signs to look for to see if baby is ready for solid food. You can find this article here.