Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Katja Leccisi, MS, RDN, Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
Photo: Belle Verdiglione
The first in our Starting Solids series.
Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.
This series will explore the many aspects of feeding your baby, from first tastes through the first year.
When to start offering foods to your baby
Ask most moms, and they will be able to tell you when their babies started eating foods. Well, perhaps not all of their babies if they have many, but their first ones for sure! I have asked grandmothers, and they still remember when they started feeding their little ones “pablum.” I can remember when food first crossed the lips of my now 22-year-old daughter at six months of age. Can you guess what is was? Ice cream! Not typical, especially not for a family of nutrition professionals, but her dad gave her a spoonful … that first taste was just for fun.
Starting solid foods is a big step, the first in the weaning process. Recommendations have changed over the years, and I find that sometimes moms are not sure what the latest news is. In this first part of the Starting Solids series, I will give you the most up-to-date information to the questions that I am most often asked.
Q: When should I start introducing foods to my baby?
A: Around the middle of the first year.
Although there was a period of debate as to whether complementary feeding should start at four or six months old, it’s now agreed that for most babies, complementary foods be introduced at around six months of age. Some babies will show signs of readiness a little before and some after six months.
Q: What do the various public health authorities recommend with regard to starting complementary foods?
A: Their statements are all variations of “start foods at about six months old.”
The World Health Organization recommends that all infants start receiving complementary foods at six months of age. Health Canada says that by about six months, babies should be offered complementary foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics says to introduce solid foods at around six months of age. The European Food Safety Authority suggests complementary feeding start between four and six months of age.
Ready, steady, go!
Q: How will I know my baby is ready to start eating?
A: By watching for developmental signs as he nears six months old.
Your baby is developmentally ready to start eating foods when he has fairly good head control, can more or less sit up and lean forward by himself, and can reach for things, and bring them to his mouth. He may also show an interest in what is on your plate. For most babies this will be when he is close to six months old, but some may be ready earlier.
Q: Should I breastfeed before or after I offer my baby food?
A: It doesn’t really matter.
The important thing is to keep offering breast milk as you did before your baby started eating other foods. Don’t substitute foods for a milk feeding. Health Canada quotes The World Health Association:
“Whether breastfeeds or complementary foods are given first at any meal has not been shown to matter. A mother can decide according to her convenience and the child’s cues.”
Just for fun
Q: Is it true that breast milk is still the most important food for my baby until he is one year old?
First foods will be a complement to the milk your baby is drinking. Keep offering breast milk as often as she asks. You may not even notice a decrease in the amount she nurses for a while. With time, as the amount of food your baby eats naturally increases, there will be a decrease in the amount of breast milk that she drinks. Health Canada recommends gradually increasing the number of times a day that complementary foods are offered while continuing to breastfeed.
Your milk is food
Breast milk is also an important source of energy and nutrients in children aged six to 23 months. It can provide half or more of a child’s energy needs between the ages of six and 12 months, and one third of energy needs between 12 and 24 months. Breast milk is also a critical source of energy and nutrients during illness, and reduces mortality among children who are malnourished.
Q: My baby is three months old, and I’m feeling pressure to give him food. Is it alright to start feeding him?
A: Not ideally.
It is generally agreed that starting foods before the age of four months offers absolutely no benefit to babies. A baby’s immune and digestive systems are not ready to deal with anything other than breast milk or formula until he is at the very least four months old. The European Food Safety Authority says: “The available evidence suggests that early introduction of complementary feeding may increase the risk of infectious morbidity.” In other words, feeding a very young baby complementary foods can potentially have negative consequences on his health.
Q: If I start giving my four-month-old baby cereal, will he sleep more?
A: Probably not.
There’s no scientific proof that giving your baby cereal or any other complementary food will help him sleep more. Sleep patterns depend on many factors.
Q: My baby is six months old but doesn’t seem interested in eating. What should I do?
A: Start offering him foods.
Even if your baby isn’t yet reaching for the food on your plate, you may begin giving him the opportunity to explore eating by offering him foods on a regular basis. Let him join you at family meals. You can try spoon-feeding as well as giving him his own finger foods to pick up to feed himself.
The questions and answers are adapted from Katja’s latest book coming soon! Questions and Answers About Your Baby’s First Foods.
Find what you want to read: article index
More from Katja: Eating Well during Pregnancy: Coping with Morning Sickness Nausea, Eating Well during Pregnancy: Weight Gain, Eating Well During Pregnancy: Iron Requirements, Food Themes in Children’s Books, How To Feed Your Kids / Cómo alimentar a tus hijos, Let Your Child Eat! / Lass dein Kind essen! My First LLL Meeting and a Cookie Recipe, Raising Healthy Eaters: Lessons Learned from Breastfeeding