The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods can then be introduced in conjunction with breastfeeding to meet your child’s evolving nutritional needs.
“Solid foods should be phased in between four to six months, depending on your baby’s development,” says Terri Harris, dietician at Discovery Vitality. “It’s during this time that babies typically stop using their tongues to push food out of their mouths and begin to develop the coordination to move solid food from the front of the mouth to the back.”
Signs of readiness
Your baby’s readiness will depend on her rate of development. The following signs (which usually occur between four and six months) indicate she is ready for solids:
- Able to sit up and has good head control.
- Shows interest in food by reaching for it, and opens mouth when food comes her way.
- Can use a spoon.
- Appears to demand food and is not satisfied by milk alone.
If your baby immediately pushes food out of her mouth,she may not be ready.
Myth 1: Your baby has reached a “magic” weight
Truth: “This guideline is partly true. As a general rule, when your baby doubles her birth weight, it’s time to consider introducing solids,” says Terri. However, this is only one of the factors to consider. “You also need to assess the signs of readiness previously listed before starting your baby on solid foods.”
Myth 2: Your baby will have problems with solids if you wait too long
Truth: “One of the main reasons why your baby should be on a variety of solids by around six months is that she needs more energy as well as other important vitamins and minerals from food, in particular iron and zinc, to support her growth and development,” says Terri. Iron and zinc are found in puréed meats and chicken, egg yolk, iron-fortified cereal and legumes like beans, peas and lentils.
“The late introduction of solids can delay oral motor function and possibly cause an aversion to the acceptance of textured solid foods,” she adds. “As your baby masters the art of eating her first foods, it’s important to slowly introduce more texture to her food by making it coarser. Instead of puréeing her food, just mash it with the back of a fork. By the age of eight to 10 months, your baby should be able to eat textured food like finely chopped soft fruits, roast vegetable wedges, pasta, soft cheese, bread, toast, rice cakes and crackers.”
Myth 3: Your baby is big or small
Truth: “Breastmilk is the best choice for babies until around four to six months of age and provides all the energy and nutrients your baby needs for optimal growth during this time. Starting solids too early can increase the risk of your baby either sucking food into her lungs or compromising her milk intake so she doesn’t get enough of the right nutrients,” explains Terri. She adds that introducing solids too early can also lead to an upset tummy, so it’s best to wait until your baby is at least four months old. “If you are concerned that you are not producing enough breastmilk, have difficulties breastfeeding, or are worried your baby is not growing adequately, speak to your paediatrician for advice.”
Myth 4: Your baby will sleep through the night once you start solids
Truth: “Although some parents often believe babies should be sleeping through the night by the age of three or four months, night-waking is a common and natural occurrence. Some mothers start solids before their baby is ready in an attempt to get her to sleep through the night and stop waking for feeds. However, this is not always effective and studies have shown the early intake of solids has little effect on reducing night-wakings,” says Terri. She explains there are many other factors, apart from hunger, that can cause your baby to wake at night – she could be uncomfortable, teething or going through a growth spurt.
Myth 5: Delay introducing peanuts to prevent a peanut allergy
Truth: To help prevent allergies, parents were once told to avoid feeding their babies highly allergenic foods like eggs, fish, peanuts and tree nuts until they were over a year old. However, there is no convincing evidence that avoidance during early childhood will help prevent food allergies. “New research also suggests that desensitising at-risk children to peanuts between the ages of four and 11 months may actually be helpful in preventing a peanut allergy,” says Terri.
Based on a 2017 report from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers the following advice to parents:
- If there is no reason to believe that your baby is at an increased risk for food allergies, and after a few first foods have been tolerated, you can start introducing the more allergenic foods like those containing milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. Peanut-containing foods should ideally be introduced as early as four to six months to reduce the risk of a peanut allergy.
- For children who are more at risk of allergies, start solids with foods that have a low risk of causing an allergic reaction, such as vegetables and fruit. Add one new food at a time, wait two to three days before introducing another, and check for any signs of an allergic reaction like diarrhoea, rash, or vomiting. If a food causes an allergic reaction, stop offering it and consult a paediatrician.
- If your baby develops severe eczema or an immediate allergic reaction to any food, he or she is at an increased risk for a peanut allergy. Your doctor should advise you on how and when to introduce peanuts and other more allergenic foods to your sensitive baby. An allergy test prior to introducing peanut-containing foods may be recommended.
Myth 6: You should start with thin puréed foods when introducing solids
Truth: Terri says it’s important to keep it simple when you’re introducing solid foods to your baby. “Initially, foods should be thin and soft, as your baby’s ability to eat solids is dependent on her neuromuscular development. In the beginning your baby is only able to suck, followed by ‘munching’, and only then can she chew.”
Some babies are more reluctant than others to accept different textures. Terri says this is nothing to worry about and you shouldn’t get into a power struggle with your baby over food. “If your baby turns away, simply try again another time.”
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.