When is the best time to start baby on solid foods? This question is a hot topic with many sleep deprived moms, hoping more food will help baby sleep, but will it really help? Baby seems ready – can I start early? These questions and more are covered below.
Babies are started on solid foods at a variety of ages, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until baby is 6 months old. An infant’s intestine lacks the necessary digestive enzymes to completely digest complex proteins and starches before 6 months of age. It also increases the risk of an infant’s immune system being sensitized thus causing allergies.
In a national survey of 1,334 mothers, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent said they gave their baby solid food before they were 4 months old, with 9 percent starting as early as 4 weeks. Doctors now recommend waiting until a baby is at least 6 months old.
Developmental cues for introducing solids include:
- Ability to sit up
- Fading of the tongue thrusting reflex
- Eruption of teeth and readiness to chew
- Ability to pick up food and put in their mouth
- Watching family members eat and reaching for their food
Advantages of waiting until 6 months for solids include:
- Accelerated neuromotor development
- Less infectious diseases, especially diarrhea
- Longer delay in return of menstrual cycles and ovulation
- More rapid weight loss for mom
Many mothers hope giving baby cereal at night time will help their baby to sleep longer but research has not proven this to be accurate. Rice cereal is the traditional first food given in our culture but is highly processed. Other foods can be more nutritious first choices including:
- Ripe banana
- Ripe avocado
- Soft baked sweet potato or yam
- Pieces of toasted whole wheat bread
Babies should be breastfed first when initially introducing solids to make sure they get their breastmilk calories and mom maintains her milk supply. If babies start solids after they are 6 months old, they don’t have to be introduced in a certain order. They can have most of the foods their family is eating and it isn’t necessary to buy baby food in a jar. Breastfed babies have already been introduced to flavors of foods their moms eat so they may be more receptive to trying new foods than formula fed infants.
Infants need additional water when solids are started. This can be offered from a glass or let baby do it on their own with a sippy cup. Fruit juices should be avoided so babies don’t fill up on a sweet liquid instead of getting more nutritious calories.
Foods to avoid during baby’s first year:
- Cow’s milk
- Eggs, especially the whites
- Citrus fruits and berries with seeds
- Dried fruits such as raisins, dates and figs
- Foods high in saturated fats such as fried foods
- Foods containing added sugar or artificial sweeteners
- Foods high in salt
- Honey which can contain botulism spores
Soft, cooked vegetables can be mashed with a fork and fed to a baby or they can be given small pieces to pick up themselves. Babies not only enjoy a variety of foods to taste but also for exploring textures and mushing with their hands. Giving a baby a chicken leg with most of the meat removed works well for teething infants. Eating at the table with the rest of the family helps babies enjoy being a part of the family activity.
Still have questions? Don’t hesitate to call or email me anytime with your concerns. I am here to assist you in any way I can.