When to Introduce Solid Foods to Your Infant

Baby enjoying an avocado.

Baby enjoying an avocado.

This is the first post in a series about starting your baby on solid foods.

Infancy is a time of rapid changes and growth for both the child and family.  Just when parents think they have their baby’s needs figured out, those needs or desires change.  One area, which causes parents a lot of angst, is feeding.    People have strong, deeply rooted opinions about how to feed infants and they frequently feel compelled to share them with new parents.  Ultimately, however, parents have to decide what is right for their own family and child.

Regardless of what you decide about when to start solids or what particular foods to begin with, it is important to think about your own relationship to food and what sort of relationship you would like your child to have.  You are your child’s first teacher and children are sponges.  They will hear the comments you speak and the body language you portray about particular foods and your own body.  These comments will shape your child’s thoughts and feelings about these issues.  Make sure you are giving them the messages you want them to receive!

This is also the time to think about what type of diet you would like your child to eat.  If you are interested in them eating a mostly whole foods diet, then this is not the time to introduce processed food into their lives.  Ellen Satter (2000) speaks about The Division of Responsibility in feeding children.  In this idea, the parents are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding and children are responsible for the how much and the whether of eating.   If you subscribe to this idea and you want to have your child eat a whole foods diet, serve only whole, real foods in your house.  Leave the processed foods on the grocery store shelves.

When to Start Solid Foods

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommend that children be fed either breast milk or an appropriate infant formula for the first six months of their life.  Up until this age, infants can receive all their necessary nutrients from these sources.  At about six months, a breast fed baby’s iron stores begin to become inadequate for their needs.  Supplementation either through food or an iron vitamin drop may become necessary. These needs should be discussed with your child’s pediatrician. (Pre-term babies may require iron supplementation earlier because they did not receive as much iron in utero.)

Even once solids are introduced, breast milk or formula should be the main source of an infant’s calories.  Think of the introduction of solids as an opportunity to expose your child to various tastes and textures, not as the main source of his/her calories.

Current thinking is to start solid foods not based on an arbitrary age but rather to wait until your individual child is physically ready to begin.  When your child begins to show signs of readiness for solid food is the best time to start.  Most babies begin to show those signs somewhere between 5-7 months.  However, premature infants or developmentally delayed children may take longer to show signs of readiness (Satter, 2000).  Don’t try to force solid foods on your infant.  The introduction of solids will be much less stressful for both of you if you allow your child to dictate the pace.  Some of the signs that your baby is ready to experiment with solid foods include:

  1. Your baby can sit up alone or with support.
  2. Your baby mouths his fingers or toys.
  3. Your baby seems interested in the food you are eating.
  4. Your baby reaches for your food.
  5. Your baby opens his mouth when food is coming.
  6. Your baby has lost the tongue thrust response, meaning he no longer uses his tongue to push food back out of his mouth.

If you decide to try solid foods and your child shows little interest or seems agitated by the process, pull back.  Give it a few more days or a week and then try again.  Eventually, your child will be ready.

Resources Used for the Article Series

AAP (2013). AAP Offers Advice for Parents Concerned About Arsenic in Food. Retreived April 2, 2014, from http://www.aap.org

Dessinger, H. (2011). Nourished Baby. e book, na: na.

Eat To Live II coursework at Wellspring School for Healing Arts, March 1-2, 2004.

Flaws, B. (1996). Keeping your child healthy with Chinese medicine: A parent’s guide to the care and prevention of common childhood diseases. Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press.

Harrison, C. C. (2012, January 20). Healthy Baby Beans | Family Nutrition by Dietitian and Mother of Two! Retrieved April 1, 2014, from http://Www.healthybabybeans.com

Lindberg, T., & Skude G. (1982). Amylase in Milk. Pediatrics, 70, 235-238.

Morell, S. F., & Cowan, T. S. (2013). The nourishing traditions book of baby & child care. Washington, DC: New Trends Publishing.

Na (2009). Starting Solids. Retrieved April 2, 2014, from http://www.llli.org

Norris, J. M., Barriga K., Hoffenberg, E. J., Taki, L., Miao, D., Haas, J. E., . . . Emery, L. M. (2005). Risk of Celiac Disease Autoimmunity and Timing of Gluten Introduction in the Diet of Infants at Increased Risk of Disease. Jama-journal of The American Medical Association. doi:10.1001/jama.293.19.2343

Planck, N. (2009). Real food for mother and baby: The fertility diet, eating for two, and baby’s first foods. New York: Bloomsbury USA.

Poole, J. A., Barriga, K., Leung, D. Y., Hoffman, M., Eisenbarth, G. S., Rewers, M., & Norris, J. M. (2006). Timing of Initial Exposure to Cereal Grains and the Risk of Wheat Allergy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 117, 2175-82. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2005.12.174

Rapley, G., & Murkett, T. (2008). Baby-led weaning: Helping your baby to love good food. London: Vermilion.

Satter, E. (2000). Child of mine: Feeding with love and good sense. Palo Alto, Calif: Bull Pub.

Sears, W., Sears, M., Sears, R. W., & Sears, J. M. (2013). The baby book: Everything you need to know about your baby from birth to age two. New York: Little, Brown, and Company.

Photo by Mark Evans of Flickr.  See more of his beautiful work here.

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