I am often approached by families who have questions regarding infant feeding and when to begin the introduction of solid foods. Some of the most common concerns are: at what age should we introduce foods? Should we start with rice cereal? Do I need to make special food for my baby or buy specialized baby food from the store? These are extremely important questions and with this blog post I am hoping to shed a little light on the topic.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization agree that an ideal feeding schedule for the human infant is exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a life, followed by the introduction of solid foods (when baby shows signs of readiness) hereafter. Six months of age is not a concrete time in which solid foods can be introduced as some babies may be ready the day they turn six months and some may possibly be ready sometime after. It is expected that solid foods between the ages of six months to one year are mainly for fun and to ascertain a more diverse palate by trying different foods and flavors while breastmilk is still providing most of the nutrition in the infant’s diet. Why is it important to wait until your baby is six months old? Breastmilk is specifically made for each individual growing baby. It is nutrient dense as it has just the right about of fat, protein, sugar, vitamins, etc., for the infant where foods (although still nutritious) may be lacking in a certain component a baby needs at the time. It is also not uncommon to find babies who were introduced to solid foods a little earlier than they were ready to show some signs of food sensitivity. What do I mean by a baby must show signs of readiness? Babies are born with a tongue-thrust reflex. This reflex protects the infant from choking by reflexively thrusting the tongue to expel objects (other than liquid) out of the mouth. You could imagine it being hard to feed a baby solids with this reflex! This reflex is typically lost between 4-6 months of age, with the more common timeframe being the latter. The absence of this reflex is a one sign of readiness. Another sign is the infant’s ability to sit up on his/her own without support. This allows the infant to be in an upright position and permits the infant to appropriately and safely swallow foods. The infant must also be willing and able to chew foods. Another sign of readiness is the infant is wanting to be an active participant in mealtimes. And what I mean is, the infant gazes at the food and is trying to grab and put it in his/her mouth. It is important to look at ALL the signs of readiness in your baby as the absence of one may mean he or she is not quite ready to start solids.
Must my baby’s first food be rice cereal? Rice cereal is commonly recommended as baby’s first food because it is relatively tasteless (often mixed with formula or breastmilk to make it more familiar to the infant) and does not really need to be chewed much before swallowed. If you waited until your baby is six months old to begin introducing solid foods there is no real need to start off with rice cereal or specially made baby foods. It is perfectly acceptable to take a little something that is un-spiced and easily mashed off of your plate (such as an avocado, sweet potato, well-cooked carrot, bananas, squash, etc.) and mash it up a little to give your baby a taste. Many health care professionals recommend introducing one solid food at a time and waiting a few days before introducing another food. The purpose of this is to be aware of your baby’s bodily reactions to each food and if a sensitivity shows up, there will be no question about which food was at fault. Luckily the afore mentioned foods are pretty low on the food sensitivity scale and may be fun to try.
- Bonyata, K. Is baby ready for solid foods? KellyMom. http://kellymom.com/nutrition/starting-solids/solids-when/. Accessed January 14, 2016.
This article should not be taken as medical advice. All questions and concerns regarding the starting of solid foods should be had with your infant’s primary health care provider.
Copyright 2016, Megan Maltby, Lotus Lactation, LLC