How Will You Know When Your Baby is Ready to Eat Solid Foods?
How do you know if your baby is ready for solid foods? Your baby may be 3 months old or 4 months old when you start to feel she may need "something more" than formula or breastmilk. Maybe she is beginning to awaken more often at night or eat more often than "usual" and you wonder if introducing solid foods may be what she needs.
A Growth Spurt May be Confused with a Readiness for Solid Foods
Please keep in mind that a growth spurt will occur between 3-4 months of age. Your baby may begin to wake more frequently at night for a feeding and/or may begin to eat non-stop (cluster feed) as she once did as a newborn. This growth spurt often accounts for the increased hunger in your baby and it should not be taken as a sign that your baby needs solid foods added to her diet!
Try offering your baby more frequent nursing sessions and/or bottle feedings instead of solids; you will find that within a week or two, your baby is oftentimes over the growth spurt and back to feeding "as usual".
Here are a few "signs" that may indicate your baby is ready for Solid Foods:
Loss of tongue-thrust reflex - This allows baby to drink and swallow liquids with ease; with the tongue-thrust reflex still present, baby may simply drink in liquidy purees or push the food back out. According to Dr. JimSears, in the first four months the tongue thrust reflex protects the infant against choking. When any unusual substance is placed on the tongue, it automatically protrudes outward rather than back. Between four and six months this reflex gradually diminishes, giving the glob of cereal a fighting chance of making it from the tongue to the tummy
Ability to let you know she is full from a "meal" with signs such as turning away from the bottle or breast. This is important so that baby is able to self-regulate the amount of food being eaten. This helps stop baby from accidentally overeating as parents may continue to feed baby thinking that she is still hungry.
Ability to sit up and hold head up unassisted
Interest in your food (we tend to disagree with this one as when a baby reaches the age of 4-6 months, he is interested in putting everything in his mouth!)
Doubling of birth weight
Frequently waking in the middle of the night when a solid sleeping pattern had been established. This may not be the best indicator that your baby is ready for solids! Please keep in mind that a growth spurt will occur between 3-4 months of age, 6-7 months of age and also 9-10 months of age. Baby may also be waking due to an illness or teething.
I know Many Baby's Who Started Solids "Early" - Why Shouldn't My Baby?
Many parents say that their own pediatricians or their friends' pediatricians have said that it's fine to start solids (typically cereal) at 4 months of age. It is still common for pediatricians to just say "start solid foods when your baby is 4 months old" because this has been the norm for many years. You will find that the vast majority of pediatricians are not experts in pediatric nutrition and many are not aware of their own governing body's guidelines!
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) acknowledges that there are no "strict" age guidelines on introducing solid foods to your baby. However, the AAP, along with the CDC and the WHO do recommend that you offer nothing but breast milk and/or formula until you baby is at least 6 months old.
This ensures optimal nutritional exposure and may stave off food allergies amongst other issues. Further studies have shown that an infant's gastrointestinal tract has not or may not have matured enough to properly digest/utilize solid foods until around 6-8 months old! (See page end for reference links)
Studies show that babies are highly individual in developing a readiness for solid foods. One baby might seem to be ready for solids at 4 months, while another shows no signs of readiness until around 6 or 7 months. Just because your friend's baby may have began eating solid foods at 4 months of age does not mean that your baby should. Don't be pushed into starting solids and don't feel like you are a "bad Mommy" if you feel your baby is ready prior to 6 months of age!
**Please keep in mind that "outward" signs of being ready for solids do not mean that your baby's inner digestive system is mature and ready! You should thoroughly discuss starting your baby on solid foods with your baby's pediatrician.
If your pediatrician insists that you start your 4 month old infant on solids, ask him or her to explain the benefits of starting solids early. You might be surprised to hear the answer is not based on nutritional science!
And remember, you never HAVE to begin introducing complementary foods simply because your pediatrician has suggested that you do so! Only when you have thoroughly discussed the pros and cons of introducing solid foods with your pediatrician will you be able to have a better grasp of just when you should begin offering baby solid foods.
Won't My Baby Sleep Through the Night If We Start Solids?
Some parents believe that if they start solids "early" then their infants will sleep through the night sooner. As your baby grows, his sleeping patterns as well as eating patterns change continually.
Around the time a few parents begin to offer solids early is just about the time that an infant may be sleeping for longer periods at a time. This is a natural progression as an infant ages and it oftentimes coincides with the addition of early solids. This coincidence perpetuates the dangerous myth that early offerings of solid foods will help an infant sleep "through the night".
To further this explanation, let us recall that between 6-8 months old, baby is often back to waking at night for a feeding. By this time baby should be eating solids and it appears that those solids are no longer helping baby sleep through the night. In reality, baby is hitting another growth spurt and may wake again during the night for more feedings regardless of eating solids! This really is "normal" and your baby may wake again during the night for more feedings regardless of eating solids!
The best advice when considering starting solid foods for your baby, "Watch the Baby - Not the Calendar!" This is true for both breastfed and formula fed infants. Follow your baby's hunger cues and you'll never go wrong!
My Parent's Insist That My Baby Needs "Real Food"
Some parents may be tempted to give in to relatives, grandmothers and sometimes even their own mothers, who say "Give that baby some real food, she's starving!" or "Nursing that baby isn't enough to, he needs some real food".
Remember that "real food" is breastmilk and/or formula and these contain all the important nutrients that an infant needs to develop properly! Breast milk in particular, and/or formula, will be enough to sustain your baby's nutritional needs for up to age 1 year old! In fact, introducing solids too early may displace the important nutrition your baby needs to receive from breast milk and/or formula!