When Should I Start Feeding My Baby Solids?
Babies' bodies aren't ready to digest and metabolize solid foods before 4 months. While the previous recommendation was to begin solids at 4-6 months, the general consensus in the medical community is that the best time to introduce solids is around 6 months.
One of the biggest signs that your baby is ready to start eating is that he can sit upright independently or with just a little support. Research supports the idea that gross motor (head control and sitting) and oral motor readiness (mouth coordination) for eating coincides with intestinal and immunological readiness.
In my online feeding course for parents I discuss why the milestone of sitting is so important for safe and happy baby mealtimes.
How Sleep and Play Positions Relate To Feeding
Research indicates that sleeping on the back is related to slower gross motor development in babies. At 6 months of age, only 22% of babies studied who slept on their backs were independently sitting (as compared to the 50% expected by researchers).
YOU SHOULD ALWAYS PUT YOUR BABY TO SLEEP ON HIS or HER BACK. But it's important to keep in mind that by using independent sitting as a sign of readiness for eating solids, we may be seeing a shift toward later introduction of solids since the Back To Sleep/Safe to Sleep recommendation started in 1994.
Tummy Time has been shown to promote independent sitting and other gross motor milestones. So we should add "helping to prepare your baby to eat solids" to the super long list of ways that Tummy Time affects development.
The pediatrician said start solid foods at 4 months!
I know I'm not alone in my experience of being urged at my baby's 4 month well child visit to begin solids. It's confusing and disconcerting when your doctor is telling you to do something that you've heard is outdated advice. As parents we have several options.
I would recommend asking your doctor specifically what about your child's health or development leads them to believe that they should begin solids earlier than is currently recommended. There may be extenuating circumstances or cases that might merit beginning solids before 6 months and your doctor should be willing to share those with you.
Is slow growth a reason to start solids early?
Several studies indicate that babies who had complimentary foods added to their diets at 4 months showed no significant difference in growth than babies who were exclusively breastfed until 6 months of age.
Also, did you know there are two widely used growth charts in the US? If your pediatrician expresses concern about your child's growth, be sure to clarify which growth chart is being used.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization publish different growth charts. But the CDC recommends using the WHO growth charts from birth to 2 years of age. Even though the CDC has their own chart for 0-2. I know - confusing! The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the use of the WHO charts until 2.
For comparison, at his 4 month appointment, our baby was in the 83rd %ile for weight on the CDC charts and 76th %ile on the WHO charts.
Be well-informed and trust your parenting intuition
I share our family's decision not because it's a one-size-fits-all solution, but because I think it highlights how being well-informed, asking questions and trusting your intuition can lead to the best decision for your baby and your family.
Our pediatrician had concerns that our son's growth rate had slowed. I didn't share those concerns. [He had dropped from the high 80th percentiles to the high 70's since his 2 month appointment. But he had doubled his birth weight plus 2 pounds by 4 months and was still gaining well over a pound a month.]
I also didn't feel that adding solids was the most effective way to increase his caloric intake (research backs up this feeling). At 4 months he required a lot of support for sitting and sat at the dinner table with us with no interest in our food. I made some efforts to increase his intake of breastmilk, but without stressing about it.
By 5 months, he was sitting independently, lunging for our spoons and screamed at me as I ate a bowl of ice cream. So we started solids at 22 weeks. I had planned on starting at 6 months but adjusted based on my baby's signals.
Your baby's doctor is a valuable resource and should always be consulted. Based on your child's individual signs of readiness, developmental and feeding history, your doctor's advice and your intuition, you can start solids at the best time for your baby.
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