The World Health Organization, Canadian Paediatric Society, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend that babies should not be given solid foods until at least six months of age. However, you do not need to give solids at six months of age. You can delay solids up to a year if your baby is not ready, your family has a history of allergies, or any other reason you think is important.
About a hundred years ago, babies were not fed solids before a year of age. However, with the introduction of commercially prepared infant cereals and foods, these companies have been pushing parents into starting solids earlier and earlier, often with serious health consequences. Early introduction of solids can cause problems, such as allergies, obesity, Crohnâs disease, and other ailments.
Why delay solids?
Delaying solids protects babies from illness. The greatest immunity from breastmilk occurs when a baby is exclusively breastfed. Many studies demonstrate that the length of exclusive breastfeeding is positively correlated with increased health benefits.
Delaying solids allows babiesâ digestive systems to mature. The pancreatic enzyme amylase does not reach adequate levels for digestion of starches until around 6 months, and carbohydrate enzymes such as maltase, isomaltase, and sucrase do not reach adult levels until around 7 months. Young infants also have low levels of lipase and bile salts, so fat digestion does not reach adult levels until 6-9 months.
Delaying solids decreases the risk of allergies. Babies have what is referred to as âopen gutâ until about six months of age. This means that there are spaces between the cells in the small intestines, through which macromolecules can pass. This is great because it allows the antibodies from breastmilk to pass through to the baby. The problem is that it allows proteins from foods and possible pathogens to pass through as well, which increases allergies and illness.
Delaying solids decreases the risk of anemia. Studies show that exclusive breastfeeding for seven months significantly decreases the risk of anemia in infants.
Delaying solids decreases the childâs risk of obesity. Studies show that early introduction of solids increases the risk of obesity.
Delaying solids helps mothers maintain their milk supply. Early introduction of solids can diminish a womanâs milk supply.
Delaying solids is easier. The later a baby starts solids, the more able they are to feed themselves, and less likely they are to have an allergic reaction.
How do I know if my baby is ready for solids?
- Baby can sit up well without support.
- Baby has lost the tongue thrust reflex, and does not automatically push solids out of her mouth.
- Baby is ready and willing to chew.
- Baby has developed a pincer grasp, with which she can pick up objects between her finger and thumb.
- Baby is eager to participate and may try to put food in her mouth.
- Possible increased demand in nursing that is unrelated to a growth spurt, teething, illness, or any other disruption.
What if my four or five month old baby seems interested in food?
Often a baby younger than six months may seem interested in food, but that does not mean she is ready for them. In the meantime, you can give your baby bowls or utensils to play with, breastmilk or water in a cup, or frozen breastmilk to chew on.
Myth: Babies who weigh a particular weight or who have doubled their birth weight must start solids.
Truth: This is arbitrary, and there are no weight exceptions to the solids guidelines.
Myth: Your baby is so big, so she needs solids.
Truth: Breastmilk or formula can sustain even large babies.
Myth: Your baby is so small, so she needs solids.
Truth: Breastmilk has more calories and healthy fats than any baby food.
Myth: Your baby needs to start solids because there is not enough iron in breastmilk
Truth: There are lower levels of iron in breastmilk than in infant formula or baby cereals. However, the iron in breastmilk is more bioavailable, and more iron is actually absorbed from breastmilk than even iron fortified cereals. In fact, formula fed babies often lose iron through fissures in their intestines caused by the cowâs milk.
Myth: Your baby needs to start solids, so she will sleep through the night.
Truth: Solids do not help babies sleep through the night.
Myth: If you donât start solids by a certain age, then the baby will have a problem with solid foods.
Truth: There are no known cases of babies having problems with solids as a result of a late introduction.
For the first year, breastmilk or formula should be the primary source of nutrition. In fact, before a year, solids are more for practice than for nutrition. Always offer solids after nursing or a bottle. Make sure the baby is not tired, sick, or cranky before trying something new.
Offer one food every day for a few days before trying another. This way, if a baby has an allergic reaction, you can pinpoint the culprit.
Do not feel obligated to start your baby on infant cereal. Cereal is not necessary. In fact, the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends against giving infant cereal because âcereals marketed for babies are not sterile and may introduce micro-organisms into the infant's system before it's equipped to handle them.â
If you want to give your baby cereal, you can make your own by grind brown rice, oats, or barley in a blender or grinder and add to boiling water. You can add breastmilk or formula also if you wish.
An excellent food to start babies on is avocado. It is high in good fats that babies need, and is not a potential allergen. It does not need to be cooked. Simply puree the avocado, with breastmilk or formula if desired.
Making your own baby food:
Making your own baby food is cheap and easy. In most cases, all you have to do is simply steam a fruit or vegetable and puree in a blender, adding the steaming water, breastmilk, or formula if needed to thin the consistency.
After your baby has successfully started solids, you can get creative with food combinations. Remember, babies do not have our preconceived notions about what foods go well together or not. Some examples: bananas and avocado, yogurt with carrot shreds and pineapple chunks, rice with peaches and chicken.
As your baby gets older, you can start adding more textures to babyâs food. Eventually the baby will graduate to eating small chunks of regular food.
Wholesomebabyfood.com has tips for making your own baby food, and even has some great recipes. You can also borrow a baby food book from the library.