When to start solids

It can be quite confusing to know when your baby is ready to start with solid foods as there is a lot of conflicting advice out there. But now it seems that with more recent research health experts across the board (Health Canada, World Health Organization, American Academy of pediatrics, just to name a few) agree to wait until 6 months of age to introduce solids to your baby. Exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months is optimal for health, development and growth of your little one.

Beyond age alone you want to look at the developmental and physiological signs that your baby is ready to start solids.  Only looking at a long term increase in the demand to breastfeed can be tricky. This can be a tough one to gauge because babies at any age may be teething, in the middle of a growth spurt or hitting another developmental milestone. Any of these events may cause them to feed more frequently. It is almost impossible to tell on this sign alone, so looking at these developmental signs will help you figure out if baby is ready for food!

Developmental Signs that your baby is ready for solids:

  • Sitting upright well with little support.
  • Showing interest in your food during family meals, and starting to grab at your food to let you know that they are interested.
  • Your baby has lost the tongue thrust reflex which automatically pushes food out of the front of the mouth.
  • Your baby is able to chew (even though they may not have many teeth yet).
  • They are able to pick up items with their thumb and forefinger (pincer grasp) instead of using their whole hand.
  • If your baby spits their food out, or lets the food just sit in their mouth without chewing or swallowing, it doesn’t mean they don’t like that food, it may mean they are not quite ready for solids at this point. The most important thing to look for is the developmental signs that your baby is ready to start solids, instead of age alone.

In the past it was recommended that solids be introduced between the ages of 4-6 months, instead of the current 6-8 months.  Some health practitioners still advise that infants start earlier than 6 months because of older schools of thought. Often parents will be told that by starting their little one on solid food they will be more likely to sleep through the night, or that they will settle longer, however this is not the case according to these studies(9,11).

It is also frequently recommended that if children are big, to start with solids early for adequate nutrition. On the other hand if babies are on the small side formula or cereal grains may be suggested. However, calorie for calorie breast milk is superior in both cases.  The research showsthat premature food introduction may actually increase their risk of developing food sensitivities, allergies,  obesity, decrease their immune system function.

Why wait until 6 Months?

The reason for these recommendations is that a baby’s digestive tract is actually quite porous when they are born, which is called a leaky gut. Leaky gut means that there are small holes in the intestines.  This is what allows nutrients and antibodies to pass from a mother’s milk (which acts as your baby's immune system while they develop their own) to her newborn, as their digestive tract is developing (4).  Introducing solids too early can lead to irritation of their developing digestive system which in turn can have an impact on their immune system and overall development. Waiting until at least 6 months to introduce solids has shown to have the following benefits:

As always, this information is not meant to replace the advice of your health care provider but provide some of the recent research and information so that you can make informed decisions on what's best for your family.

Additional References

1.Barham-Floureani, J. (2009).Well Adjusted Babies (2nd Ed.). Melbourne, Australia: Well Adjusted Pty Ltd.

2. Carling, S.J.,  Demment, M.M, Kjolhede, C.L, & Olson, C. Breastfeeding Duration and Weight Gain Trajectory in Infancy.PediatricsJanuary 2015, VOLUME 135 / ISSUE 1.

3. Chantry, C.J., Howard, C. R., & AuingerP. Full breastfeeding duration and associated decrease in respiratory tract infection in US children.Pediatrics. 2006;117(2):425–432.

4. Deasley, M. (2010).The Resourceful Mother. Willowdale, ON: Meredith Ann Dealsley.

5.DuijtsL., Jaddoe, V,W, Hofman, A, & Moll, H.A. Prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of infectious diseases in infancy. Pediatrics. 2010;126(1).

6.Halken S. Prevention of allergic disease in childhood: clinical and epidemiological aspects of primary and secondary allergy prevention. Pediatric Allergy Immunology. 2004 Jun;15 Suppl 16:4-5, 9-32.

7. Grimshaw, K., J. M.,Oliver, E. M,  Morris, R., Foote, K.D.,  Mills, C., Roberts, G., & Margetts, B.M. Introduction of Complementary Foods and the Relationship to Food Allergy. Pediatrics, Dec 2013, 132 (6) e1529-e1538 

8. Guxens, M., Mendez, M.A.,Moltó-Puigmartí, C.,  Julvez,J., García-Esteban, R.,  Forns, J.,  Ferrer,M., Vrijheid, M., López-Sabater, C., & Sunyer, J. Breastfeeding, Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Colostrum, and Infant Mental Development. Pediatrics. October 2011, VOLUME 128 / ISSUE 4

9.1. Keane,V., et al. Do solids help baby sleep through the night? Am J Dis Child 1988; 142: 404-05.

10.Kramer, M., & Kakuma, R. (2002). The optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding: a systematic review.Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2002, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD003517. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003517.

11. Macknin M.L1, Medendorp S.V, Maier, M.C. Infant sleep and bedtime cereal. Am J Dis Child. 1989        Sep;143(9):1066-8.