When do I introduce solid foods to my baby?
You’ve heard 4 months. You’ve heard 6 months. You’ve probably even heard of people waiting til 7-8 months of age too! You know what none of those people are taking into account? Your baby. Each baby is unique and individual. They roll, crawl, walk, and talk at different times. So why do they need to start eating their first foods at one specific time?
Those who say 4 months will tell you it’s because it reduces the chance of allergies, or because their nurse told them to. Maybe their paediatrician said it would help with reflux. Or maybe they just felt their baby was ready. Does that mean any of those reasons are right for your baby? No.
Those who say 6 months will tell you it’s because this is when they sit independently, lose their tongue thrust reflex, and can grip and use their hands more to explore and feed themselves. Does every baby lose their tongue thrust reflex at 6 months, or sit independently at this age? No. You cannot follow one arbitrary age number and forget that your baby is unique, developing at their own rate.
What are we missing?
We are feeding our babies in fear. They are so precious to us, and at the end of the day, all we want to do is the best we can for our baby. So what do we do? We listen to the person we feel has the most authority. We find a schedule or a book, or a website that tells us exactly what to do and when to do it. This way we don’t have to deal with the overwhelm or anxiety that comes with making decisions about what to feed, and when to feed it. We don’t question the reasons why. And this is what we are missing!
Imagine if you knew why you were introducing particular food groups. If you knew exactly what that food was doing to your baby. If you knew that your mother’s intuition trumps all other recommendations, and that if you feel your baby is ready for solids, then it’s likely your baby is ready for solids. Full stop.
My favourite quote when it comes to introducing food to your baby – follow your baby, not the calendar. You know what that means? Trusting your intuition. We all have it!
What does the evidence say about introducing solid foods?
Well, here’s the trouble! The evidence says start from anywhere between 4-6 months of age. So even the scientific research cannot come up with a definitive age. And you now know why – because each baby is different.
There are some important things you must know before before starting solids with your baby.
Around 4 months of age, their digestive system begins to mature. And it continues to mature until they are around 5 years of age. Immature digestive systems are leaky – they don’t digest well, and they allow larger proteins to enter the bloodstream (that a mature gut would not let through). And the problem with this is your baby also has a leaky blood-brain-barrier, meaning everything in their blood has direct access to their brain. Because of this, compared to adults, babies are much more sensitive to what is put in their body.
Because when you’re starting solids, your baby’s digestion is still quite immature, it is good to start on easy-to-digest foods. (If you want to know what I recommend, sign up to receive the Top 12 First Foods list). It is also because of their immature systems that it is not recommended you start introducing foods before 4 months of age. Their poor little bodies just can’t tolerate solid foods at that age!
A common misconception is that your baby has a ‘virgin gut’ and shouldn’t be exposed to foods before 6 months of age. A virgin gut refers to a digestive system that has only the gut bacteria given through the milk, has no digestive enzymes, and wouldn’t cope with solid foods. Research has now proven this to be incorrect – the microbiome of a baby begins in the womb, and they have a huge variety of bacteria in their gut from birth onwards. Research has also shown that digestive enzymes are produced based on the foods that stimulate them, and there is no arbitrary age at which they suddenly are produced. So if you’ve heard recommendations about waiting until strictly 6 months of age, you can rest assured that you don’t need to (if your baby is ready before then!).
So combined, all the research suggests there is a ‘window’ between 4-6 months of age that is safe for introducing solids to your baby. And this is why I say trust yourself, follow your baby’s cues, because there is an entire 2 month window in which your baby may or may not be ready to take their first bites!
Here are some signs your baby might be ready for solids foods:
They show interest and are curious about what you’re eating
They mimic you by slapping their lips
When given food, they put it in their mouth and try to eat it
You are confident with their development, their ability to swallow, to hold their head up, to move their arms and hands
What did I do with my baby?
I’d like to share what I personally did with my baby when it came to introducing solid foods.
- Allowed my baby to be part of my meal times, even before he was ready to eat – I let him watch me eat, I talked to him about what I was eating, and told him when I was hungry or full
- Provided some food for him to play with when I knew he wasn’t ready to eat yet – for sensory play (and because our babies are always interested in what we are doing right?)
- Followed his cues – the more interest he showed, the more I let him explore and learn – this went from sitting in the high chair, to watching me cook and eat, to playing with his own bowl and spoon (which was a great drum set!), to playing with different foods and textures – and eventually to eating
I made sure he was ready before I introduced solid foods to be eaten. For my child, that was at 5.5 months of age. I stopped listening to the recommendations of 4 months, or 6 months. I stopped worrying what other people will think of me. By the time I gave my child food for the first time, I was confident he was ready, because I knew my baby, and I knew his signs.
Think your baby is ready for solid foods? Check out our yummy bone broth recipe here, it might just be on the Top 12 First Foods list!
Still unsure, and would prefer some guidance? The “Is My Baby Ready For Solid Food Quiz” is part of my 8 week Fearless Foodies online program, teaching parents the why behind introducing whole foods to your babies.
Be sure to come and join us in the free Fearless Foodies facebook group too!
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