As a mom, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling as though you need to get on board as quickly as possible to ‘take on’ the next developmental milestone, but you stand to negatively impact your baby’s associations with food if you take the leap too early. If you push your baby before they are ready, they are likely to miss out on experiencing pleasant memories around their first food experiences. Remember, it’s all about timing and each child is different.
According to the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), solid foods should only be introduced between four and six months. The reason why, is this is when your baby has a more mature immune and digestive system and will be less likely to develop an allergic reaction, which could otherwise have been avoided (provided there are no allergies in the family), not to mention other ailments like constipation, tummy problems and even pulmonary issues (from inhaling tiny particles of food into the lungs).
Essentially, an immature system has a greater chance of producing antibodies as a reaction to the protein in foods, which results in an allergic reaction. This is something you should (and can) avoid at all costs, if all it means is waiting until your baby is good and ready to start eating solids.
By six months, babies will require more iron than the amount available in milk (breast milk or formula) for their growing developmental needs – iron is essential for the formation of red blood cells and in energy metabolism. By six months, your little one’s digestive system would have started producing some enzymes to digest foods and will need some essential nutrients to fulfil the demands of their little bodies. Although iron-fortified formula fed babies are less likely than exclusively breast fed babies to develop anaemia around the six month mark, most babies should be introduced to solid foods by no later than six months to provide them with more nutritionally rich sources of iron.
The AAP has given the green light to starting solids earlier provided that your child is showing the tell-tale signs that they are ready;
- Your baby is drinking milk non-stop and never seems to be satisfied
- Your baby begins waking at night, all of a sudden, to feed when they had been sleeping through
Note that the above two ‘signs’ can be mistaken for a growth spurt, which generally occurs around 3-4 months and again around 6 months and will last anywhere from a few days up to a week. Increase milk feeds first to rule out a growth spurt but also be on the look-out for some of the other signs:
- Your baby is able to hold up his/her head
- Your baby is able to turn his/her head when done feeding or when wanting to eat
- Your baby is able to sit with minimal support
- Your baby wants to chew and may even have teeth
- Your baby shows a keen interest in food (I remember my son watching me eat my breakfast mesmerised by the spoon I kept lifting into my mouth, pretending to chew along with me!)
By waiting until the right time, you not only avoid the challenges that come with food allergies, but you also cement the foundation for your baby to have an adventurous diet.
The above information should never replace the advice of your GP, paediatrician or nurse.