When baby is first born, we have a built in method of care, breastfeeding, which for most, happens relatively smoothly. And, this built in food is always available, on demand, for free! I have to admit that being able to breastfeed worried me at first because my mother freaked me out about her difficult experience but, breast feeding turns out to be the one thing I truly miss about having an infant. When it came time to start solids, and decisions had to be made about how, when and what, then I was freaked out in the even more! So, the more you know about WHEN to start solid foods, the less you will worry. Let’s start there.
Babies do give us the signals that they are ready to eat solid food (best to learn now what is in their control and what belongs to you!):
- Can sit up well
- Can control head and neck well (so the poor thing can signal fullness by turning away)
- Controls tongue well (mastication and movement of food is the first skill)
- Tracks spoon with eyes
- Grabs for your food when on your lap
- Opens mouth when being fed
Once these skills are mastered, and only then, will you look at the chronological age of between 6 and 9 months (use adjusted age if you have a preemie)
There are two big myths that need to be busted!!!
- It will help my child sleep longer if they are full.
This is absolutely incorrect. In fact, often at 4 months, baby does not even have the enzymes needed to break down the solid food. The absence of these stomach enzymes and the presence of food can gas and discomfort, keeping the little darling (and you) awake.
- There are no risks to starting too early.
Here are just a few…
- Choking is a real risk when they haven’t developed the above list of physical skills.
- Future allergies can be avoided by letting the gut flora develop naturally but, introduce a potential allergen too early and we may be asking for trouble.
- Taking in incomplete sources of food only reduces the amount of truly beneficial breast milk (or fully supplemented formula) baby gets.
- Feeding too much, too soon can over ride the child’s own satiety signals which can increase the risk of obesity later on.
Waiting too long has a few, much smaller risks:
- After 9 months, baby has developed a preference and learned how easy it is to drink until full, you may end up with a child who will refuse textures.
- After 9-12 months, baby may need external iron source as the stores you provided before birth do get used up.
I learned (sometimes the hard way) that there are three things your child has absolute control over: Eating, sleeping and potty. We spend a heck of a lot of time getting them to do these things on our schedule when there could be a more harmonious way for us to lead them into our lifestyle.
The next frontier is to decide what foods to feed first and how and, as with all new frontiers, this one is not so clear cut.