There are many conflicting recommendations about when your baby should start solids. It can be tough to know exactly when to do it, which can be particularly stressful for parents since there are several aspects to this decision.
Reasons to add solids
Let’s start with the reasons why baby needs to start eating solids.
Nutrition: To maintain adequate iron stores. Until approximately 6 months, your baby doesn’t NEED food other than breastmilk. After that age, breastmilk can no longer keep up with the body’s high demands for iron and other minerals.
Reduced risk of Celiac: There has been some interesting research recently that shows there might be a window of opportunity between 4 and 6 months for helping to establish immune tolerance to gluten. Additionally, continued breastfeeding at the time the infant has been exposed to gluten seems to protect against Celiac disease.
Development: Babies need to be challenged to learn new skills. Moving food around in the mouth, chewing, and swallowing are all skills that you and I take for granted, but we all needed to learn them at some point!
Before 4 months, most babies do not have the strength needed in their muscles to hold themselves upright while eating. There are high chairs on the market that have “solved” this problem by adding a recline position, but this is dangerous. If a baby is reclined, food can more easily slip back into the throat and into the wrong pipe, and their heads can bob about more easily too. Overall, the risk of choking is much higher.
So starting before 4 months is too early, but you don’t want to wait too long either! There’s a window of opportunity (which closes around 10 months) to make it easier for your baby to accept different food textures. If this window is missed, it becomes increasingly difficult for the child to get used to different food textures.
Every Baby Is Unique
As mentioned in this article, most health organizations tell you to start solids at 6 months exactly. No more, no less. Doesn’t that sound a little inflexible? Here are some of the factors that make this a decision that is somewhat unique to each baby.
Length of gestation: A full term baby can be born at 37 weeks or 42 weeks. That’s more than a month apart! This is going to affect their timing of developmental milestones. Nutritionally, it is also going to affect the babies’ iron stores. The longer they bake, the more iron stores they get from mom!
Birth story: How a baby’s birth plays out is also going to affect their iron stores. Delaying the clamping of the umbilical cord for 2 minutes can significantly increase baby’s iron stores! Due to other factors, however, the best time to clamp the cord remains controversial.
Paths of development: Some babies are very interested in mobility and learn how to sit up, crawl, and walk sooner than the average. Other babies are talkative and speak their first real words sooner than what is average. These differences are going to affect the best time to introduce solids.
Personalities: There are adventurous babies and there are cautious babies. There are fiercely independent babies and there are shy babies. These personality traits are going to help determine the best time to introduce solids.
Since each baby’s story is unique, a blanket recommendation like 6 months is too rigid. It’s more appropriate to suggest a window of time (ie: 4-6 months). The time that is right for your baby to start solids might be different from your friend’s baby or even a sibling!
Smart Nurition’s Guide to Introducing Solids
To help you make your decision for your baby, here’s a comprehensive guide that incorporates these factors.