Starting your baby on solids is an important milestone – for everyone involved. It can however, also be an incredibly stressful time as a parent as you try to work out the best approach. Paediatric Dietitian Karina Savage explains what signs show when your baby is ready.
Starting a baby on solids (and deciding when to start them!) is a time when we find ourselves comparing our babies to others, such as those in our Mothers Group. This is especially the case when it’s your first bub and you are incredibly sleep deprived and you often feel like you are second guessing everything you do!
Quite often, this comparison leads to worrying that our baby is not progressing at the same “perfect” rate as others. Even though we are told that all babies progress at their own rate, one that is unique to them, it’s still human nature to both compare and worry.
So….when is the best time to start solids?
National Guidelines say:
- The best time is not before 4 months and not after 6 months
- And when your baby is developmentally ready
Now let me explain in more detail.
Until around six months of age, your baby’s nutritional needs are met 100% by either breast milk or infant formula alone and nothing else is required. Even after your baby has started on solid foods, breast milk or infant formula is still a significant and important source of their nutrition.
When they are around six months old, their nutritional needs start to change and this is why we need to start solids – to support their needs for growth and development.
Signs your baby is ready to start solid foods:
- They are able to hold their head upright unassisted (without you holding it)
- They are able to sit up (with support)
- They are losing or have lost the “tongue thrust” reflex which pushes food back out
- They are interested (or becoming interested) in what others are eating around them – they will often be watching you eat, reaching towards your food and trying to grab some
- They may be hungry even after a breastfeed or bottle
What if I started solids too early?
Starting a baby on solids is definitely not a competition and mums should not feel pressured to start too early.
Starting too early can be bad for bubs for a number of reasons. If they are not developmentally ready on the outside, then they may not be ready on the inside either – meaning that their digestive system may still be too immature and not yet ready to cope with food. Their swallowing skills may also not have properly developed yet.
What if I start solids too late?
Solids need to be started by 6 months of age is because there are particular nutrients that babies need to get from food. The iron content in breast milk is very low/running out by 6 months, which is why in a breast-fed baby, the “first food” should be rich in iron such as iron fortified baby cereals. Other issues that may arise if solids are very delayed include feeding issues and speech problems. Research has also shown us that the very late introduction of some allergenic foods (such as egg and nut) can increase a child’s risk of developing a food allergy.
If you find that you are still unsure about whether or not your little one is ready to start solids, chat your local Child and Family Health Nurse, Doctor or Paediatric Dietitian. Links to the “first foods” (introducing solids) resource and the National Infant Feeding Guidelines can be found on the “free info” section of Karina’s website.