The timing of this post is perfect for me, as my little guy, Caden, is just beginning to eat solids regularly. Recognizing that he is ready to have some solids incorporated into his daily feeding routine has pushed me to delve back into some of my nutrition books, to be reminded of and learn even more about how to nourish a growing baby.
So how did I realize that he is ready? This is the first question for many moms, and it is a truly important question! Many current baby books advocate starting your baby on solids sometime between 4-6 months, but my own experience and my research have caused me to believe and do otherwise. Breastmilk should be all that they need until they are at least 6 months old.
Between months 3-6, if your baby is seeming increasingly hungry, it would be best to focus on increasing your milk supply, rather than on introducing solids (you can read a previous post of mine on breastfeeding, with several suggestions for increasing milk supply). The reason for this is that a baby's digestive system is very immature, and does not yet have all of the enzymes necessary for properly digesting solid foods (causing them digestive upset, gas, colic, bloating, etc.).
As well, babies under 6 months of age have what is referred to as an "open gut". What this means is that their intestines have "gaps" if you will, between the cells, which allow larger food proteins and other molecules to go directly into the baby's bloodstream. The end result of early feeding, prior to the closing of these gaps (which is around 6 months), is usually food allergies and an increased likelihood of illness. To read more about the reasons for delaying solids, please see this excellent article on www.kellymom.com (which has wonderful support for breastfeeding, by the way).
Once past 6 months, look for signs of readiness such as:
- the presence of teeth
- being able to sit up unsupported
- tongue-thrust reflex is no longer present
- a long-term desire to nurse more, that goes beyond a few days or a week (short-term increased interest could just be a growth spurt, teething, etc.)
- baby shows an increasing interest in what the rest of the family is eating (however, this alone is not a sign of readiness- young babies are usually very interested in whatever they can get their hands on- books and papers, Daddy's glasses, Mommy's hair, etc.)
It's very important to evaluate these readiness signs as a whole. For instance, in our case, our son turned 6 months almost 2 months ago. At this time, I began to look for signs of readiness, but did not begin to offer him solids yet. Shortly after the six month mark, he received his two bottom teeth. He had already been sitting up for over a month, and was showing signs of interest in food, so I very cautiously offered him some solids. He didn't care for them, and it was obvious that his tongue-thrust reflex was still strong, so I stopped and waited some more. A month later, he was up more to nurse in the night, and I believed that he might be getting hungry. I made a couple more cautious attempts, and again, still some tongue thrusting. As well, I noticed just a couple of days later that he was teething hard, and decided to wait out the teething to see if that was all that it was. Sure enough, within another 2-3 weeks, he had two more teeth, and the night waking has diminished again.
However, now I have noticed that he is quite hungry during the daytime, and having a harder time going down for his naps, on the nursing schedule that he is on. So once again, I tried solids this weekend. For the first time, he accepted them very readily and hungrily. I have offered him a small serving of solids once a day for the past three days, and each day he has gobbled it up, just loving it. And so, at nearly 8 months old (this Thursday), I think he is ready!
We had a similar experience with our daughter, who tried solids around 5-6 months (I hadn't yet been convinced that I should wait until after 6 months and for some reason just had this itch to want to feed her), but she just didn't seem truly ready or interested or that she actually needed the food until closer to 9 months! The point is, don't just assume that your baby is ready because they have reached a particular age, but rather be attentive to the bigger picture of the needs and readiness of your very unique, very individual baby. Kellymom has another great article on signs of readiness, which you can read here.
Even once baby has shown true signs of readiness and interest in food, it is still very important to be cautious about how foods are introduced. Most doctors and books recommend waiting anywhere between 4-7 days after introducing a new food to see whether your child has a reaction to it, before you introduce anything else. Some signs of intolerance include: redness around the mouth; abdominal bloating, gas and distention; irritability, fussiness, over-activity and awaking throughout the night; constipation and diarrhea; frequent regurgitation of foods; nasal and/or chest congestion; and red, chapped or inflamed eczema-like skin rash (taken from the article Nourishing a Growing Baby).
Next week, I will continue on with this topic and write about which particular foods to introduce and in what order, how to prepare those foods, and ideas for making and storing homemade baby food!