Learn about what signs to look for when determining whether your baby is ready to begin solids or not, and why some parents may start solids prematurely.
For most parents, the thought of starting solids can feel daunting. First and foremost, how do you know when your baby is ready to start solids? We are looking for developmental signs of readiness. This is a crucial step as we learn to force less, sit back and observe our babies, and respect them for where they are developmentally.
There is no reason to rush them to each milestone. How often have we heard people ask if our baby was eating solids yet, crawling yet, sleeping through the night yet, walking yet, talking yet, potty-trained yet?
Let's pump the breaks. Comparing ourselves or our children to others really does take the joy out of it all. That's another reason why I highly dislike growth charts and diagrams at the pediatrician's office. They're just conditioning us to compare our children from the very beginning.
I just had my second baby boy in 2020. With every child you learn more about yourself. You can relax a bit more--you know what to expect, you know that whatever stage they're in will change rapidly, and that they will be ok. It makes you want to savor each stage and appreciate the present moments.
Our children are not robots, programmed to do certain things at certain ages. They're all unique. Let them lead, regardless of what family and friends say or suggest. The latest research is not based on the opinion of others, or stale information recited at the pediatrician.
Most Babies Will Be Ready Around 6 Months Old
Some babies may take longer to show signs of readiness for solids--my second son wasn't ready until 6.5 months. It is important to remember, babies need certain nutrients starting around 6 months of age. One of the most important nutrients required is iron. Iron sourced from whole foods, with heme-iron being the easiest for the body to absorb.
Back in the 90’s it was common for babies to begin solids at 4 months. Then in 2002, the World Health Organization recommended that babies be fed breast milk or formula, exclusively, for the first 6 months. American Academy of Pediatrics, UNICEF, American Academy of Family Physicians and other organizations are now up to date on their research, recommending the same. It's good to note, some pediatricians may not be aware of the latest information.
Why wait until baby shows signs of readiness to start solids?
A four-month old baby's digestive system is still developing and needs time to strengthen so they can digest solids. Going from milk to solids is a burden on an immature digestive system. If baby has not shown signs of developmental readiness to start solids, they may have difficulty digesting, be more susceptible to food allergies and illness. Their digestive systems and intestinal lining need time to strengthen. If they're not meeting all the developmental signs of readiness, such as sitting up, then that's a good indication that their digestive system is not mature enough to properly digest solids without complications.
What are the developmental signs of readiness?
1. Baby is sitting up unassisted for little bits at a time. While they may still topple over sometimes, they're not being propped up in a high chair, or a Bumbo seat.
2. They have head control, and can turn their heads if they don't want anymore food.
3. Lost tongue thrust reflex where they push food out right after it goes in.
4. Developing pincer grasp-- taking into account they may not master this until around 9 months.
5. Interested in food. They will be eager to eat a purée with an open mouth, sitting upright, and leaning into the spoon! Be mindful that babies want to put everything into their mouths, so try to remember they need to meet other signs to starts solids, as well as being eager.
A premature baby may need more time to show signs of readiness. I recommend parents keep their adjusted age in mind as they wait to observe these signs.
Instead of waiting for our babies to reach a certain age, or the pediatrician to give us the green light on solids, let's take back the power as the parent to know for ourselves when our baby is ready by observing for these signs.
What if baby has reached 7 months old, and is still not meeting all the signs of readiness?
Check in with your healthcare provider to rule out any delays or undiagnosed disorders. I do want to emphasize again the importance of nutritional demands starting around 6 months of age, such as iron. So, while we don't want to rush them until they're ready, we do want to keep in mind their needs for iron are higher than an adult male starting around 6 months of age.
Why do some parents start solids prematurely?
Often times babies display behaviors that we take as signs they want or need to eat, but these are not always true developmental signs of readiness. For instance:
- Displaying an interest in the food you're eating. They may grab it and even take it to their mouth. While we most definitely consider eagerness as a sign of readiness, it comes after baby has met all other signs of readiness listed above. Babies will chew on shoes, pick up poop outside and put almost anything in their mouths. Just the other day my son had a dead pincher bug in his mouth!
- Little one wakes more frequently at night. It is common for parents to think milk is no longer enough for their baby and they should begin solids to help baby sleep longer stretches. But truthfully, between 4-6 months is when babies are becoming more aware of the world around them, and when they wake between sleep cycles, they may call out to the parent for comfort to get back to sleep. Feeding solids to a baby too early may cause more sleep disturbances due to difficulty digesting food.
- A baby considered too big or too small. It's common for parents to think they should begin solids to sway their baby's weight. However, the size of a baby has no direct correlation to their developmental signs of readiness.
- Lip smacking. Baby may be watching you and begin practicing what they see, but be sure to wait for those signs of readiness to start solids.
While starting solids can be very exciting for most parents, especially for those of us who love food, just keep in mind that jumping the gun on solids can lead to gastrointestinal issues and even more susceptibility to allergies. By giving these babies the time they need to develop and show signs of readiness, you're setting the stage for a respectful parenting journey!
What you may need when starting solids:
When the time comes that baby is ready for solids, you may want to introduce food in the form of purees. The beauty of purees is that you can enrich them with much needed iron and nutrients for baby-led spoon feeding.
You may want to do baby-led weaning, but you can also do a combination of the two!
Watch my video to learn how to make a nutrient dense puree.
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