The American Academy of Paediatrics, the UK Department of Health, the World Health Organization and UNICEF all currently advise waiting until a baby is 6 months old before introducing solids, as a baby’s nutritional needs are all usually met by breast or formula milk until then. However, some paediatricians, recommend starting to introduce solids from 4 months of age!
Every baby is unique, and some develop faster than others – if your baby is steadily gaining weight and seems content after milk feeds alone, you may think it worthwhile waiting until 6 months to start him or her on solid foods, because by then:
Your baby’s development will be well advanced, and his or her tongue-thrust reflex will be lost, so that he or she will be able to cope with swallowing more textured foods rather than just fluid.
- Your baby will have had 6 months of receiving the best of nutritional needs from your breast milk or the formula milk that you have been giving – starting solid foods will now mean that his or her consumption of milk will diminish, and your supply of breast milk may decrease.
- His or digestive system will be more mature, making digestion easier and avoiding possible constipation and discomfort.
- Allergy risks are lessened.
In certain circumstances though, your paediatrician may advise you to introduce solids at 4 to 6 months to help your baby grow and develop healthily. If your baby suffers from reflux, he or she may have problems keeping milk down, leading to slow weight gain – starting solids at 4 months may help prevent ‘spitting up’ and improve weight gain. If your baby was premature or had a low birth weight, there may be feeding difficulties that affect the amount of milk he or she is able to consume, or extra calories are needed to help make up for nutrition he or she has missed.
Signs of readiness for solids:
- Your baby should be able to sit unaided – this is important as it enables him to swallow food correctly. If your paediatrician has recommended starting solids at 4 or 5 months, your baby may not be able to, but he or she should be able to sit well with a little support.
- Baby should have lost the tongue-thrust reflex – which makes him or her instinctively push unusual substances out, rather than swallowing them. If this reflex is still strong, your baby is not ready for solid foods.
- After milk feeds your baby doesn’t seem to be satisfied, and his or her appetite seems increased.
- He or she is more and more interested in watching you eat – though this could just be curiosity!
Solid foods and helping baby sleep through the night…
Parents are often advised that starting solids will help their babies sleep through the night, but a night-time feed – even after 4 months of age – is quite natural. Indeed, starting solids purely to help your baby sleep through the night could be counter-productive: if your baby’s digestive system isn’t ready, solid foods could lead to constipation or other digestive problems-leading to even more wakeful nights.
First foods for your 4 to 6 month-old baby…
One of the best ‘first foods’ is infant rice cereal – it can be easily mixed with breast milk or formula for a very thin consistency and a taste that is familiar. It is also one of the least allergenic foods, so is particularly suitable if your baby is starting solid foods before 6 months of age.However, rice can be rather binding and can sometimes cause constipation.
Also, although it may be one of the least allergenic foods, it is NOT totally risk-free. It is usually recommended that a cereal – or any other food – that contains gluten is not given until at least 6 months of age, particularly if there is a family history of Coeliac disease or allergies. Wheat, barley and rye may be unsuitable for your baby at 4 to 6 months old. Oats may also contain gluten -usually because they are grown and processed alongside other gluten-containing grains. Speak to your baby’s doctor or paediatrician about current guidelines in your area for giving oats before your baby is 6 months of age –vegetable or fruit purees may be recommended instead.
Some ideal first foods at 4 to 6 months:
- butternut squash
- sweet potato
Preparing fruits and vegetables for your baby…
Wash and peel all fruits and vegetables before cooking them. If you are introducing solids before your baby is 6 months old, it is important to remember that his or her swallowing and digestive system is still relatively immature – any peel could cause choking or be difficult to digest. (When your baby is older, you may like to think about leaving certain fruits and vegetables unpeeled – particularly if you are able to buy organic.)
Banana and avocado do not need to be cooked,so they are ideal convenience foods for your baby. All other fruits and vegetables – including apples and pears -need to be cooked thoroughly until your baby is AT LEAST 6 months old. Cooking helps break down cell walls in the food, making it easier to digest and to puree. Also, cooked fruits and vegetables are less likely than raw ones to provoke an allergic reaction.
This information presented to you acts as a guide which contains researched information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.