How do you know when you should introduce solid foods to your baby? There isn't a specific date on a calendar but rather a set of developmental signs to look for to know when your baby is ready.
Probably the most confusing thing about introducing complementary foods to your infant is knowing when to start. Introducing first foods is very exciting and there tends to be a lot of input from multiple sources, from your baby's doctor, your neighbour, your cousin's grandmother-in-law, everyone has an opinion on when to start.
The trouble is there is there isn't some alarm that suddenly goes off the day your baby is ready to start solids.
Transitioning to table foods is meant to be gradual so starting should be too.
There are a few signs to watch for to ensure you are starting solids at a time when your baby is physiologically ready.
Sign #1: Around 6 months old
The most important thing is to watch your baby for signs of developmental readiness, not a specific date on the calendar. However, the consensus by most health authorities is to start introducing complementary foods around 6 months of age. Health Canada, The World Health Organization, The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Family Physicians (and quite a few others) all recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. This is the age when many babies are reaching the developmental milestones outlined below, while also reaching a stage of gut maturity where they are ready to digest solid foods.
In the past, babies were introduced to solid foods much sooner which had a lot to do with the shift towards formula feeding. This might be why your grandmother is pestering you to start your baby on "pablum". The history of baby food is actually quite interesting if you're ever stuck under a sleeping baby and feel like doing some reading.
Starting Solids Too Early
There is no benefit to starting solids before baby is developmentally and physiologically ready.
You may hear that your baby is too small so you should start solids to get larger or your baby is too big and needs solids to meet his needs (ah, the great paradoxes of unsolicited advice). You may even hear that giving your baby table foods will help them sleep through the night. This is simply not true. There is no research to support this (and most babies don't sleep through the night at 4 months anyway).
If your baby is at high risk for allergies there may be some benefit in introducing potentially allergenic foods between 4-6 months of age. Speak with your child's health care provider or a pediatric dietitian if you are concerned.
Starting Solids Too Late
Babies will still be meeting the majority of their nutrient needs from breast-milk or formula until about a year old. However, there are some important nutrients, such as iron, which baby should be getting from complementary foods around 7 months of age. Learning to eat also gives baby practice with several different skills, so you don't want your baby to miss out on this developmental opportunity.
Sign #2: Baby can sit upright with no (or very minimal) support
Some babies start sitting upright very early, some do it a lot later. Your baby should be able to sit up quite sturdily in their highchair without a lot of slouching. You may have to prop them up a bit with folded blankets or tea towels to get them in a proper position. An occupational therapist can be a great resource if you have concerns about your baby's sitting position.
Babies should never be fed in a reclined position as this increases the risk of choking
Sitting up in a bumbo type seat does not count as sitting upright as the baby is forced upright in the seat
Sign #3: Baby has good head and trunk control and is able to lean forward in their high chair
This is again important for choking prevention, if your baby starts gagging on a portion of food you may notice them lean forward to help propel the food forward.
Sign #4: Baby has lost the tongue thrust reflex
This means that baby's tongue does not push foods out of his mouth automatically. This one can be hard to recognize unless you've already started spoon-feeding your baby. If your baby is showing all the other signs of readiness and you aren't sure about this one try offering them some puree on a spoon to see if they push it out automatically with their tongue.
Sign #5: Baby can bring hands and toys to their mouth
This developmental milestone is important regardless of whether you choose to introduce solids through a baby-led weaning or spoon feeding approach (or a combination). If you do choose to spoon-feed your baby, offer a variety of textures, including finger foods for them to get the hang of self-feeding.
If your baby is not bringing hands or toys to their mouth and they are well past 6 months of age, speak with your doctor or health care provider.
Sign #6: Baby shows an interest in food and mealtimes
This sign alone is not sufficient unless your baby is meeting all of the other milestones, many babies start to show interest in food around 4 months of age but this does not necessarily mean they are ready to eat. If your baby gets excited about foods, include him at the table, on your lap or in a highchair with some teething toys to "practice" eating.
Is your baby meeting all of these developmental milestones that show readiness for solid foods? Get ready for a new phase of babyhood!
The nutrition information contained in this resource is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician, registered dietitian, or other qualified healthcare provider with respect to any questions you my have regarding the nutritional requirements based upon a medical condition. Reliance upon any content provided in this resource is solely at your own risk. Speak with you health provider if you suspect your child may have a condition or delay that would prevent them from eating safely.