When to Introduce Baby to Solids?
The World Health Organisation recommend that babies are fed breast milk exclusively for the first six months. You might choose to feed your baby formula instead. At six months babies should be introduced to solids. Some babies may be ready earlier, but they should not have solid foods before 17 weeks. Parents need to emphasise the importance to the babysitters or nannies too as these recommendations are based on the research into the long term health of babies weaned at different ages and with different foods. Before 17 weeks a baby’s kidneys can struggle to process the waste products of some food and large food molecules may trigger an allergy. In the 1980s and 90s parents were advised to start solids at 12 weeks, but research shown that this is not a good practice.
It takes a full year for babies to develop all the enzymes needed for their digestive system. Enzymes to digest starch develop at around six months. Those for carbs by about seven months, and fat-digesting enzymes develop at around nine months. As a result, even at the age of six months, there will be some foods that they cannot break down and digest. A young baby’s digestive system is designed to process milk as his only food and breastmilk or formula milk provide all his nutritional needs. This changes at around six months, when the digestive system is ready for extra nutrients provided by solid food. For example, babies are born with a store of iron. After six months, the internal store will have run out, so a baby needs to start eating iron-rich solid foods.
A premature baby may take a bit longer than six months to build the strength to be ready to try solids. It may be helpful to use your baby’s due date as a guide, rather than his actual birth date. He is more likely to be ready nearer six months from his due date. However, don’t follow this exactly. Watch for the signs that he is ready for solids. They will be the same as for a full-term baby, and you may delay it too long.
Weaning is partly about a baby learning to move food around his mouth. Being ready for solids depends on both the maturity of your baby’s gut and his physical development. Signs that mums and dads often mistake for a readiness are waking up in the night, wanting an extra milk feed, or chewing hands.
Your baby is ready for solids if he or she:
- can sit up well in a high chair
- can support and turn his head
- is interested in your food – sit him in a high chair beside you when you are eating so he gets used to the idea
- is ready and able to chew, and makes chewing movements
- can move his tongue backwards and forwards to swallow
- can close his mouth around a spoon
- is beginning to develop the physical dexterity required to pick up food and put it in his mouth
Your baby is not ready if you offer a spoonful of food and he pushes it straight out, or if he closes his mouth and shows no interest in the spoon. Ask the nanny for the baby’s behaviour and development during babysitting. The most important thing to remember is all babies develop at different rates and so you really have to look at your baby and assess whether or not he or she is ready. If the signs are there, go ahead, and if they are not, just wait a few days and try again.
Lots of people introduced their baby to solids at eg 16 weeks, especially your parents and it didn’t do them any harm. However, when you look at the statistics for big groups of babies who were weaned early, the risks can be seen. Babies weaned before they are physically ready for solids have a higher incidence of eczema, wheezing and chest infections. Some babies are ready before six months, but it is important that you do not begin solids before 17 weeks.
Can I Wait For Longer Than Six Months?
There are risks to not introducing solids to your baby until after six months as by this stage he is beginning to need the extra nutrients provided by solids foods. For example, if your baby is not getting enough iron-rich foods he can become anaemic, as his stores have run out. Also, the development of your baby’s oral motor control can be delayed if you wait too long to introduce solids. Advocates of the baby-led weaning argue that this method helps oral motor control skills to develop more quickly.
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