Among advice-givers, opinions vary about when it’s time to start solids in a baby’s diet, and ultimately it’s up to parents to decide based on what will be best for their child’s nutrition and development. There are however a few guidelines that can help you make this decision.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most babies can start solids at 4 to 6 months of age. Prior to this age, a baby’s tongue-pushing reflex that helps with breastfeeding or bottle drinking will likely stop her from swallowing solid food. Babies also become more active and have more energy starting around this age. Their nutritional needs expand as they grow and develop, which is another reason it makes sense to start solids around this time.
Beyond the AAP’s recommendations, it’s important to remember that each baby is different, and there is no rush to start a baby on rice cereal or bananas. If you start solids too early, it can be a huge detriment to a young baby’s developing digestive system. Breast milk can be calorically and nutritionally perfect food for much longer than 4-6 months – even up to one year of age or later for some babies.
Mother nature has a knack for sending us humans clear messages, and this certainly applies to a baby’s development and diet.
Here’s some cues that your baby’s ready to start solids…
Your baby sits. Just as adults don’t eat while laying down because it works against gravity, the ability to sit up will enable your baby to swallow solid foods. It makes sense that when a baby has figured out how to go from laying down to sitting on her own, she is developmentally ready to eat solids.
Your Baby crawls. There’s a saying in Chinese medicine that “When a baby can crawl she is ready to eat food from the earth.” Until then breast milk is best.
Your baby’s got teeth. Teeth are mother nature’s way of saying that baby’s ready to chew something other than milk. Teeth are not necessarily a requirement (as first foods are usually pureed or at least very soft), but some parents may wish to follow this clue from inside baby’s mouth.
Your baby reaches for or grabs food on your plate. While this may be an indication your baby is interested in solid foods, consider that she probably is also reaching and grabbing for just about anything now and is equally interested in putting a toy or paper in her mouth as she is a spoon full of sweet potato.
5 Myths About Starting Solids Now
- Rice cereal will help my baby sleep through the night. Not true! In the beginning, babies play with their food more than eat it, and even so, stuffing baby full of rice cereal is more likely to cause a tummy upset than a restful night of sleep. If you feel like baby’s waking from hunger, try adding an extra feed of breast milk in the evening.
- My baby is underweight, so I need to start solids. Introducing solid foods is not a good solution for an underweight baby. Breast milk is more calorically dense than most solid foods appropriate for baby, and baby is much more efficient at drinking milk than chowing solids. If you are breastfeeding and believe your baby is too small, talk to your practitioner or a lactation expert about ways to increase your milk supply. If you are formula feeding, a holistic pediatric practitioner can help you come up with a plan to get your baby back on track using herbs and supplements.
- My Baby’s too old (or too big) for breast milk alone. Even though the AAP recommends 4-6 months to start solids, for most babies, breast milk is the perfect food for the first year of life.
- Breast milk does not have enough iron, so I need to start solids. Though breast milk has less iron than formula, the iron in breast milk is more easily assimilated than that of formula or conventional rice cereal. If you are concerned that your baby is anemic, talk to your holistic pediatric practitioner.
- If I don’t start solids by X age, my baby will have problems eating solids. There is no magic window that you must pass through to ensure your baby is a successful eater. Instead, follow your baby’s lead and your gut instinct which are the best ways to know for sure when your baby’s ready to have more than a liquid diet.
Regardless of when you start introducing solid foods, breastfeeding (or formula feeding) should be the main source of nutrition for your baby throughout her first year. Solid foods will help with nutritional support and caloric needs, but how much of it your baby eats should not be a big source of concern for parents; simply let her eat as much or as little as she likes. In the beginning it is mostly about exploration of tastes and textures as well as learning how to pick up foods and swallow.
When you have decided that you and your baby are ready to start solids, begin with one type of food at a time (spread a few days apart), be sure to mash them thoroughly, and consider mixing thicker foods with a small amount of breast milk. Read more about choosing and preparing baby’s first foods here.
Want to learn more about feeding your baby? Want to ensure that your little one grows and thrives?
Get Nourished Baby by Heather Dessinger. This ebook contains everything you need to know to eat right during pregnancy, while nursing (or what to do if you can’t breastfeed), and how to navigate the adventures of feeding your baby solid foods.