Babies walk at different times, they talk at different times, and just like all other developmental milestones, their digestive systems are ready for solid foods at different times. Instead of waiting until your baby reaches a certain age, it’s also recommended to wait until your little one meets all of the Developmental Signs of Readiness. These observable milestones indicate when your little one’s intricate system is ready and mature enough for the introduction of solid foods.
Babies usually start meeting Signs of Readiness around 6 months, but it can definitely take longer for some and research is showing that it’s beneficial to wait. In the 1990’s, it was common for most babies to start solids around 4 months. In 2002, the World Health Organization recommended exclusive breastfeeding (formula/combo feeding) for the first 6 months. In 2012, Health Canada, Canadian Pediatric Society, Dieticians of Canada & Breastfeeding Committee for Canada (can you tell I’m Canadian!) released a joint statement:
“Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months is important for the nutrition, immunologic protection, growth, and development of infants and toddlers”
This sentiment is also promoted by UNICEF, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. Although, often literature and even some pediatricians are not current with the new research.
Signs of Readiness
Baby can sit up well, without support.
Baby may still topple over, but they should be able to support themselves in a seated position for a period of time. Our digestive systems are made up of muscles. From the moment food enters our bodies to the moment it exits, it is pushed along by peristalsis, which is a wave-like contraction of the muscles that moves food through our digestive tract. When baby has the core strength to sit up on their own, it’s also a good indicator that the muscles of their digestive tract are strong and ready as well.
Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex.
Some babies have this reflex quite strongly and it may not be as obvious in others. It happens when something unfamiliar is placed in baby’s mouth and they automatically push it out with their tongue. This protects infants against choking, helping them to get things out of their mouths quickly and safely. Waiting for this reflex to subside shows that baby is more ready to accept solid foods.
Baby is developing a “pincer” grasp.
This is when your baby begins picking things up between their thumb and forefinger instead of just using the palm of their hand or whole hand. They likely won’t master this until a few months after solids are introduced, but they should be starting to practice the pincer grasp when playing with toys and grabbing other objects.
Baby is ready and willing to chew.
This last Sign of Readiness is a little trickier and should only be considered after the first 3 have been met, because it could also be a false sign. When starting solids baby should be eager to participate in mealtime and may try to grab food and put it in their mouth. If your baby has reached the other 3 signs but is still not showing much of an interest, there is no rush. Some babies are very eager when presented with food, but others just aren’t at first and that’s ok! Allow them time and let your baby lead.
False Signs of Readiness
Wakes at night.
“Baby wakes at night? They must need some food to tide them over.” This isn’t the case though. Around the 4-6 month mark your baby is developing in so many other ways. When breast or bottle-feeding, you may notice them “pulling off” around this age to look around. They are becoming much more aware of the world around them and can become more stimulated by this new awareness when waking at night, making it harder for them to sleep.
Nurses more frequently day/night.
“They must be hungry and needing food.” Although babies do need more calories as they age, this actually has more to do with their new awareness of the outside world. As their potentially overwhelming world opens up, the comfort of being held and fed allows them to feel safe and secure.
Size of baby big/small.
“Your baby is so small, they must need some food. Your baby is so big, they need less milk and more food.” You hear it for both circumstances, but the size of a baby isn’t always a direct indication of their developmental readiness.
“Baby is smacking it’s lips, it must be hungry.” Baby is imitating you and practicing the motion in preparation for food, but lip smacking alone doesn’t mean that they’re ready for food.
Grabbing at food.
“That baby is hungry, look at them grab for the food.” Babies tend to try to grab and gnaw mostly everything (remote controls, keys, etc.), so often parents view their interest in food as a premature sign of being ready to eat. Although they should be showing an interest before starting solids, the other Signs of Readiness should be met first.
Introducing solid foods to your little one should be a fun and exciting adventure, but there are often many questions on how and when to take this step. My program, Baby Knows Best: An Intro To First Foods (http://www.carleymendes.com/babies) will answer your questions, eliminate your doubts, and allow for this potentially overwhelming step to be much more enjoyable.