While the traditional recommendation has been to introduce solid foods between 4 and 6 months of age, more and more pediatricians are recommending that parents wail until closer to the 6 month mark. In fact, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization suggest introducing complimentary foods around 6 months of age as well.
Until 6 months of age, an infant’s primary nutrition comes from breast milk or formula. If solid foods are introduced too early, an infant may not drink enough to get the calories needed each day to grow and develop on track. The delayed introduction of solid foods has also been linked to decreasing the risk of food allergies in infants. Newer studies have shown that the early introduction of solid foods is linked with obesity.
But more important than age, a child should meet certain developmental milestones before starting solid foods.
1. Being able to sit with support. Sitting up is the safest position for infants to eat in. Babies should be able to sit in a high chair comfortably prior to the introduction of solid foods. Good head and neck control is a prerequisite for introducing solid foods.
2. Showing interest by putting toys in their mouths. When infants begin putting things in their mouths that may be a sign they are ready to experience different textures. Since most babies put almost everything in their mouths, this should be accompanied by other telltale signs before introducing solid foods.
3. Showing interest by leaning forward when food is presented and pushing away when done. When infants mimic eating and indicate that they want to eat when others are, it may be time to introduce solid foods. When presenting food to an infant, if he leans forward in hopes of eating it, he could be ready for solid foods. When an infant stops feeding and signals he’s done, it may be a sign he is self-regulating, which is helpful when starting solid foods.
4. Doubling birth weight. When an infant has doubled her birth weight, she may require additional calories to support growth and satisfy hunger. This typically occurs when a baby has reached 14 to 18 pounds.
5. Having coordination. Infants need to be coordinated enough to safely swallow foods to prevent choking and aspiration. They need to be able to push the food from the front of the mouth to the back of their mouths for safe swallowing.
6. Losing the extrusion reflex. Infants have a reflex that causes them to push their tongue against anything placed between their lips. Feeding an infant who still has this reflex is frustrating because the infant keeps pushing food out of his mouth. This reflex typically disappears between 4 and 5 months of age.
When infants reach 4 to 6 months of age and show the signs of readiness, introducing solid foods can be an exciting time in a child’s development. Infants should first be introduced to single grain cereals. The texture should be thin and as the infant masters easting it, be thickened. Next, multigrain cereals, pureed veggies and pureed fruits can be added, followed by meat.