The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breast/bottle feeding and starting solids at around 6 months.
Benefits of waiting to introduce solids:
- Babies are able to chew, self-feed & swallow more efficiently which helps them cope with new textures. Meanwhile, it also assists with the weaning process and limits overeating
- The digestive system matures and the intestinal lining wall becomes stronger
- Greater protection from illnesses while decreasing the risk of food allergies- making way for a mature digestive system that helps break food down more efficiently
- Better protection against iron deficiencies
- Proper appetite control- babies are able to show you signs when full
There is no exact answer of when they are ready as it differs with each baby, just like every milestone. It is beneficial to wait till your baby shows developmental signs of readiness.
On average these signs show up around 6 months, however, results may vary. Some babies start weaning sooner while some take time Also, always check with your paediatrician before beginning solids. If you have started earlier - don’t worry just take it slow and watch out for any signs of uneasiness.
Signs of Readiness:
- Baby can sit without support and hold their head steady
Our digestive systems comprise muscles - so when a baby starts to sit up it translates to their body’s muscles getting equipped to digest food. Once a baby is able to hold their head up themselves, they will then be able to signal signs of fullness by turning their head. This will also allow them to self-feed.
- Tongue thrust reflex has diminished
When a baby sticks their tongue out they are essentially trying to keep something out of their mouth. Once this subsides- this means they are ready to accept certain food groups, hence limiting the need to force-feed.
- Hand, eye and mouth co-ordination
When babies start picking up objects with their thumb and forefinger instead of palms (pincer grasp)- they are displaying signs of coordination to pick up food and place it in their mouth. This will probably not be fully developed at 6 months- you just need to look out for signs that they are working on this skill. This is important for finger food.
- Shows an interest in food
Once babies start showing an interest in your food- they become eager to grab it, put it in their mouth and chew. They also show an interest in sitting around during mealtimes.
All these signs should be met and should not be looked at individually.
A lot of doctors recommend starting solids before 6 months for the below reasons- Here is why is not advisable:
False signs of readiness:
- Waking at night
Not because they need solid food, - instead, as they become more aware of the world they tend to wake up more stimulated and end up calling out for you for comfort.
- Requiring more frequent breastfeeding
Same reason as above- babies seek comfort via breastfeeding as they become more aware of so much out there in the world to explore which can be overwhelming for them.
- Size of baby
This isn’t a direct indicator of their readiness
- Smacks lips
This may make you feel like they are ready for solid food instead they are just practising and getting ready for that action while simultaneously mimicking your behaviour.
False signs may be due to growth spurts, teething or just learning. Therefore, please note that starting solids should not be done to try and solve weight gain and sleep issues as there is no evidence that it will solve these problems.
Therefore, don’t be in a rush to start solids - instead waiting for your baby to be physically and mentally ready will help make their experience and yours a more positive one.