Adding anything to a thriving baby’s diet in the early months
can interfere with his normal breastfed health.
Even one exposure to a formula or solid food causes changes in a young baby’s body, and can trigger allergies or intestinal disease that might have been avoided. Young babies don’t digest starch well, so early cereal may be filling, but it isn’t quality food. Early fruits or vegetables can interfere with iron absorption. And studies indicate that babies sleep through the night when they’re ready, not when they start solids. Neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the World Health Organization recommends adding to a healthy breastfed baby’s diet before 6 months. Is your baby gaining poorly? Supplementing without skilled breastfeeding help can make your milk supply even lower. If weight gain is a concern, call a breastfeeding specialist for help in keeping your baby well-fed and nursing.
So when is a baby ready for solids? If your baby is about 6 months old and can sit up, reach for food, put it in his mouth, chew it, swallow it, and reach for more, he’s ready, and he can do it himself without help from the baby food industry. In contrast, the old image of Mom patiently spooning food in and Baby spitting it back out is a picture of a baby who is just not ready yet. All other mammal mothers wait until the baby does it himself. We can, too.
The old guidelines that recommended starting solids “at 4 to 6 months” included formula-fed babies and those few breastfed babies whose growth is truly faltering. For the typical, thriving baby, early solids may replace a complete, well-digested food with an incomplete, poorly digested one, and can lead to obesity, allergies, and low iron. There are good reasons to wait until your baby helps himself, especially if there are allergies in the family.
Some 4 and 5 month olds are “mouth hungry”, and seem eager to eat. They more likely want to teethe or practice or socialize, and will probably be happy to sit at the table with cups, spoons, plates, and company. They may also be seeking more chances to nurse for food or comfort. On the other hand, the baby who insists on solid food before 6 months knows his own body. He is a person, not a calendar. Offer him age-appropriate finger foods and let him do it himself. That will increase the entertainment value, decrease the mess and expense, and eliminate worries about overdoing it. It greatly reduce choking risk, too, since a spoon held by someone else doesn’t allow a baby to control how much and where and when.
Other babies may not be interested in solids until well past the 6-month mark. No problem, as long as they continue to thrive. Follow your baby’s lead. He will increase solids at his own pace, if you make them available to him at the family table.
Breastmilk (or formula if you cut back on breastfeeding) should be your baby’s main source of food until at least a year. Your milk is a fully nutritious food for as long as your baby enjoys it. So relax and keep the food fun. No need to rush. For a “taste” of the research, see this article. For some how’s and why’s, check out Gill Rapley’s work in a slide show on baby-led solids.
©2015 Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC www.normalfed.com