Why it's Wise to Wait When Starting Solid Foods
As a dietitian and mom to 5 small kids, I work and interact a LOT with families who are interested in - and often confused by - what (and what NOT) to feed their children.
To be fair: the first stage of feeding is easy. Pretty much everyone agrees that breastmilk is best for baby, and that infant formula is a decent substitute if breastfeeding isn't possible.
Good Sense Goes Out the Window...
But as soon as solid foods comes into the picture...that's when good sense goes out the window and parents start grappling with a ton of conflicting information.
I recently conducted a focus group of first time parents with infants about to start solid food. Nearly 85% of the participants had been told by their pediatrician to start feeding iron-fortified white rice cereal at 4 months of age.
Now...I don't care HOW smart or well-developed or advanced your baby is, NO 4-month-old baby is ready to eat solid foods. And there's absolutely no reason to feed food that early either.
So here's a little backgrounder on why it's wise to wait when you're starting solid foods!
Babies Don't Need Food at 4 Months Old
I know...we live in a hyper-competitive parenting world these days...one, where if your baby can read at 12 months, and your baby can walk at 8 months, then my baby is sure as heck going to eat at 4 months!
But there's simply no reason to start solid food that early. Breastmilk or infant formula is a perfectly complete form of nutrition for baby for at least the first 6 months of life.
Even after you start introducing complementary foods, breastmilk and/or infant formula will continue to be the primary source of calories, fat and nutrition until at least 1 year of age.
You have the next 17 1/2 years to worry about what your kid is going to be eating...why start any earlier than you have to?
Babies Aren't Ready for Food at 4 Months Old
In the early stages of infancy, your baby will push out any and all solid items placed in his or her mouth. The majority of the tongue (about the back 3/4) will stimulate the gag reflex: a protective mechanism intended to keep objects out of the airway before the baby is ready to handle food.
But somewhere after the 6-month mark, that gag reflex starts to recede, and only about the back 1/3 of the tongue triggers the reflex. This is an indicator that the baby can start using the front part of his or her mouth and tongue to begin exploring and handling solid and pureed foods.
The ability for your baby to sit up by herself is also an important pre-requisite for feeding. Most babies are not yet able to sit relatively unassisted at 4 months of age, but will be so closer to 5 or 6 months. Having considerable core strength and sitting almost alone is a key factor for learning how to eat. So don't stress: if your baby can't sit up yet, he's not ready to eat either.
Feeding Early Doesn't Solve Fussiness
Some parents mistakenly think that early introduction of foods will help a fussy baby...or even better, help that baby sleep through the night.
I hate to break it to you mama...but that just isn't true! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, early introduction of solid foods (at 3 or 4 months) is associated with increased weight gain and fat storage, both in infancy and later in life.
No Need to Rush: Wait Until 6 Months
If you're looking for more info on whether or not your baby is ready to eat, download this Readiness to Feed Checklist. And don't stress: there's no hurry to start super early when it comes to solid foods!
(...and you may also want to check out my related post, "Is Your Baby Ready to Eat Solid Food Yet?")