The ideas around feeding babies solid food has changed a lot over the years which leaves parents with very unclear guidelines. In fact, it was only about 15 years ago that pediatricians recommended adding cereal to a 6- week-old’s bottle to help them sleep (which is a bad idea). So when is the best time to introduce solid foods? The short answer is 6 months. When your baby is 6 months old, he or she is ready to eat solid foods individually, without any additives like salt, oil, or sugar. This is when your their digestive tract is developed enough to digest and absorb food other than breast milk. Introducing foods earlier may lead to an increase in obesity, eczema, asthma, and digestive complaints like reflux, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, which will make your baby colicky and uncomfortable. These digestive problems set them up for autoimmunity and inflammatory conditions in the future. There are a few signs that let you know that your baby is ready to start eating:
- They are able to sit up with minimal assistance and have good control of their head.
- The baby no longer pushes everything out of his/her mouth with their tongue. This is a reflex that protects your young baby from choking and it disappears between 4-6 months of age.
- The baby is double his/her birth weight and at least 13 pounds
- The baby shows interest in food
- You can see a more comprehensive list at Baby Center
It is also important not to put off introducing solid foods too long. Waiting until after 7 months makes food introduction very challenging. Also, your baby’s iron stores start to deplete at 6 months, so it is good to get other iron containing foods in the diet before 9 months.
It is important to know that introducing foods for the first time is about experiencing the food and learning about eating. Your baby will not be dependent on these foods for nutrition for a few more months. So don’t sweat it if your carefully prepared blended yams end up everywhere but in your baby’s tummy. Sometimes it is helpful to mix some breast milk in with a new food if your baby rejects it at first because of the sweetness and familiarity of it. Also, only introduce 1 food at a time and allow your baby to eat that for 4 days. Watch for rashes or changes in mood or bowel habits. If these occur, then your baby is having a reaction to the food, and it should be avoided. If no reaction occurs, then move on to the next food.
Some great foods to start with are yams, sweet potatoes, carrots and peas. A lot of websites recommend starting on rice cereal because it is fortified with iron. However, the form of iron they use to fortify the food is not easily absorbed and is usually not helpful any way. So I recommend starting on nutritious whole foods and adding in iron sources around 8- 9 months like grass fed organic beef or beans.
If you have concerns for your baby’s health or nutrition, please schedule an appointment to discuss your child’s individual needs.