Chapter One – A Discussion of Introducing Solid Foods at Each Stage

Get Ready For Solid Foods!

As you contemplate starting solid foods, it’s important to note what various medical organizations recommend.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), along with many other health organizations such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF, states that breast milk and/or formula should provide all the nutrition your baby needs during the first 6 months of life.   However, the AAP Committee on Nutrition also notes that introducing solid foods between four and six months is perfectly acceptable introducing babies to solids prior to four months is not recommended.  Regardless of whether you start at four, five or six months, or even later, keep in mind that solid foods will not make up a large portion of your baby’s nutrition for quite a few weeks after you start.

Remember that you are introducing your baby to solid foods, not suddenly changing your baby’s diet.  At this point, the term “complementary foods” is often used instead of “solid foods” and this term best describes what the early role of solids is.  In the beginning, you are complementing breast milk and/or formula with solid foods, not replacing them. The first few weeks should be a time to take it slow, keep it simple and stay relaxed.  Explore and enjoy the experience of watching your baby touch and taste his way through the wonderful world of food!

How will I know when my baby is ready to eat solid foods?

When a baby hits 3 or 4 months, many parents start to feel that he or she may need “something more” than formula or breast milk.  Your baby may suddenly be waking up more often at night or eating more often than has been typical.  But it’s important to remember that while waking at night for a feeding could be an indicator of solid food readiness, there might be another reason: the growth spurt that typically occurs between 3 and 4 months of age.  This growth spurt often accounts for your baby’s increased appetite, but is not necessarily a sign that your baby needs solid foods.  You see, babies have a tremendous ability to know just what they need and when they need it.  These demands for increased feedings are your baby’s way of obtaining the crucial nutrition her body needs during this time of rapid growth.  Remember, during these early months formula and/or breast milk are your baby’s most important source of nutrition.

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.    Since appetite alone is not a reliable indication, here are a few key signs to look for when trying to determine if your baby is ready to begin the journey into solid foods:

  • Has baby lost the tongue-thrust reflex?  In the first four months the tongue thrust reflex prevents a baby from choking on foreign objects. 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.  Until this reflex is gone, solid foods won’t have a chance of making it into baby’s belly.

  • Has baby developed the ability to signal that she is full?  Your baby will develop the ability to let you know that she is full from a “meal” with signs such as turning away from the bottle or breast and/or clamping her mouth shut.  This signaling ability is critical for allowing him to regulate the amount of food he is eating and helps him avoid overeating.

  • Is baby able to sit up and hold his head up unassisted?  This milestone is important because babies who must be reclined to be fed are at greater risk of choking.  Also, the ability to sit and have head control has long been associated with the physical maturity that might indicate baby is ready to eat solids.   Most pediatricians are in agreement that this milestone as a clear indicator that a baby is ready to begin solid foods.
  • Has baby’s birth weight doubled? The doubling of birth weight is a rough rule of thumb that baby is ready for solid food.  It’s far from an exact rule, though, so you should consider the other signs as well.

Some infant developments that are traditionally viewed as a sign of readiness for solid foods are less reliable.

These signs may include the following:

  • Interest in your food.   This could signal a readiness for food but may not be the best sign as when a baby reaches 4-6 months, he is interested in putting everything in his mouth!

  • Frequently waking in the middle of the night when a consistent sleeping pattern had been established.  As noted earlier, although frequent waking could be a sign of readiness for solids, it’s not a reliable sign.  Baby may be waking (and nursing/feeding) for any number of reasons: illness, teething or even a growth spurt.  Unfortunately, as you will learn over the coming months and years, sleeping patterns are often disrupted for all sorts of reasons even long after your child is on a solid food diet.