This is a common question among new Moms and seasoned Moms as well. The official recommendation as to when to start your baby on solids (ie baby cereal – see last month's blog) has changed in the last few years, leaving Moms with a new baby, yet with older children saying – but I did not do it that way when my older child was a baby. Of course, there is always Grandma, Aunts, Uncles and your next door neighbour telling you that "when my kids were little we did it this way".
What's a parent to do? There is no magic age where all infants are ready for solids. Each infant develops at their own pace. What most nutrition/pediatric experts do agree on, is that MOST infants become developmentally ready for solid foods between the ages of 4 to 6 months.
Here is what happens during this two month period:
• Baby's digestive system matures enough to handle the protein, fats and sugars that come from foods other than breast milk or artificial baby milk.
o Offering foods other than breast milk or artificial baby milk before this happens could lead to allergic reactions and tummy upset.
• Baby's kidneys develop the ability to excrete (pee out) the waste products from food like meats.
• Baby's tongue thrust reflex goes away - otherwise baby will just push the food out of their mouth instead of swallowing.
• Baby's fine muscles develop enough that baby can close his/her lips over a spoon and push food to the back of their throat and swallow.
• Babies develop enough that they will open their mouth when they see a spoon coming.
• Baby's larger muscles develop enough that he/she can hold his/her head up steady, turn their head away to indicate they are full, and they are able to sit up mostly by them self.
All these developmental signs (some we can outwardly see, some we can't), tell us that baby may be ready to start learning to eat from a spoon. These signs develop over time – a baby does not go from "not ready" to "ready" in just a day.There is no medical benefit of introducing solid foods before an infant is developmentally ready, but there could be some harm. There is an increased risk of choking, development of food allergies(talk to your MD about when to start solid foods if your family has a history of food allergies), or causing the infant to "fill up" on foods that do not provide the necessary amounts of nutrients that breast milk or artificial baby milk does. Remember, at this age most of baby's nutrition must come from breast milk or artificial baby milk.
So, to answer the question "when do I start offering my baby solid food," the answer is – it depends. Look at your baby, watch for the developmental cues discussed, talk to your MD and/or your WIC Nutritionist. Don't start offering solids at a set age just because that's what you did with your last child, what the commercial said on TV, or because you just can't wait to give your child some food. Let your infant tell you when they are ready.
Vincent Iannelli, M.D., http://pediatrics.about.com/od/weeklyquestion/a/04_fdng_gidlns.htm. Accessed 8/30/12