Rest assured, your question is a common one. Unfortunately, it can cause confusion because depending upon whom you ask, you'll likely get a different answer. The best piece of advice I can give you is when you move to feeding solids, base that decision on the individual feeding needs of your baby and her unique physical development. Don't allow yourself to be pressured to start solids by the practices of other parents (or even your own past practices with previous children), by the marketing schemes of baby food manufacturers, or by the often inaccurate "old wives tales" on baby nutrition.
The Debate of Feeding Solids at 4 or 6 Months of Age
Generally, it is commonly accepted by health care professionals that the only food healthy babies receive during the first 4 months of life is breastmilk or infant formula. Research shows that introducing solids before this age may lead to significant health problems. So although the issue of starting solids can be clouded by many opinions, delaying the start of solids until at least 4 months of age is pretty clear.
The current debate is then whether babies should start at 4 months or 6 months. Some health care groups say you can start solids at 4 months while others strongly encourage waiting until closer to 6 months of age. The thing we need to realize is that your baby's development isn't like a light switch - suddenly she is now ready for solid food when the day before she was not. Solid readiness is a progression of development, and every baby's point of solid readiness is individualized. I would curb the temptation to pick up the baby spoon and bowl simply because your child has turned 4 months of age. A better starting point at that age is to begin to observe your baby for the signs that she is ready for solids and then to offer foods based upon your observations and guidance of your pediatrician.
Solids After 6 Months
For some time the thought that lingered among some parents was that it was best to start solids sometime after 6 months to prevent the development of allergies. However, research by the Committee of Nutrition and Allergy and Immunology found in 2008 that there is no concrete evidence that delaying solids after 6 months better prevents the development of food allergies.
Signs Baby Is Ready for Solid Foods
Ok, ok. So you get it the fact that you shouldn't necessarily be watching the calendar for when to start solids and instead be watching your baby. But watching your baby for what? Here are some indicators that your baby might be ready for something other than breastmilk or formula.
- Absence of tongue thrust, a reflex that when something is placed in her mouth she pushes her tongue out. If she's going to swallow food, it is essential that this reflex is gone.
- Solid head and neck control. She needs to be able to turn her head away so that she can communicate with you that she is full. She also needs to be strong enough to support the weight of her own head.
- Can sit up independently fairly well.
- Has doubled her birth weight (though this is not a "magic" moment either that indicates that she is ready for solids).
Appearing Interested in Solids and Sleeping Through the Night
Additionally, there are two other signs that are often given out by some professionals to gauge readiness for solids. However, I tend to take these two points with a grain of salt. One, is to observe if the baby "appears" interested in foods. My reaction to that is generally around 4 months babies become much more aware of their environments to begin with and appear interested in what is going on around them anyway. Also, they start to become fascinated and explore objects with their mouths. I think their "interest" in solid foods may sometimes simply be an interest in their environment, and not necessarily eating food.
The second sign sometimes suggested is that if your baby isn't sleeping through the night or was sleeping through the night but no longer is then solids may be offered. However, this doesn't take into account that a lapse in sleeping through the night might be a reflection of a periodic growth spurt. Also, research does not uphold that offering solids will encourage bedtime sleep anyway.
When it is time for your baby to begin solids foods, be sure to investiage tips for starting solids and have an informed discussion with your pediatrician on the matter. Use education and instinct to make this decision rather than pressure from others.
For a more complete listing of the timing of certain solids, read When Can My Baby Eat ...?"
- Starting Solid Foods. Copyright © 2008 American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Promoting Healthy Nutrition The Bright Futures Guidelines, Third Edition. American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Macknin ML, Medendorp SV, Maier MC. Infant sleep and bedtime cereal. Am J Dis Child. 1989 Sep;143(9):1066-8.
- Keane V, et al. Do solids help baby sleep through the night? Am J Dis Child 1988; 142: 404-05.
- Effects of Early Nutritional Interventions on the Development of Atopic Disease in Infants and Children: The Role of Maternal Dietary Restriction, Breastfeeding, Timing of Introduction of Complementary Foods, and Hydrolyzed Formulas, Frank R. Greer, MD, Scott H. Sicherer, MD, A. Wesley Burks, MD, and the Committee on Nutrition and Section on Allergy and Immunology Volume 121, Number 1, January 2008, p 183 - 191.