When is the appropriate time to introduce solids to your baby? This question has come under fire in recent years as research continues to surface supporting delaying introduction of solid foods to infants than was previously thought. Government organizations have changed their stance, and others, including parents, aren’t always quick to follow. The research is readily available for you to make your own decision.
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What Science Says
Babies should be exclusively breastfed until they’re at least six months of age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition and the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree with this notion. In the case of formula-feeding moms, the rule sticks. No food before six months. There are several other milestones children need to meet before starting solids, too. They include:
- Baby can sit on his own without support
- Your little one is capable of chewing and often mocking others when they do
- Your baby’s pincer grasp is strong
- Your child no longer pushes food out of his mouth with the tongue thrust reflex
- Baby shows interest in food by reaching for it when others are eating
Being an unsupported sitter is important because it shows that baby has good spine and neck control, which means the risk of choking is smaller. If your child is starting to use his hands to motion food to his mouth when watching others eat, he may be ready, but the other signs still need to be present, too. Many babies will mock what others do without real interest in the food itself, but the practice of eating and engaging with others.
The pincer grasp is confirmation that your baby now knows how to start feeding him or herself. Initially, babies are born with a reflex that causes them to push their tongue outward any time something is introduced into the mouth. It isn’t a response to taste, but one to pressure. When they stop doing this, they might be ready to test the waters with vegetables.
The conflict that presents with all of this is that some institutions and popular parenting sources are still claiming four months old is old enough to let baby start eating food. Unfortunately, many parents are following this advice despite the leading authorities arguing in favor of updated research. The New York Times reported on a study completed by the AAP which found 40.4 percent of mothers reported introducing solids to their baby before they were even four months old and 9 percent of them started as young as just four weeks.
To understand how this occurs, it’s important to understand how the gut works in favor of a healthy baby. Dr. Sears’ website notes the importance of allowing the intestines to develop before introducing food, because they aren’t equipped to fully filter out potential toxins and allergens before the gut closes between the fourth and seventh month of life. Waiting can make all the difference when it comes to injury and even death resulting from anaphylaxis.
This is where it all starts — the gut. This is the place where your baby’s immune system is formed. It’s also highly susceptible to injury from assault too early in life. The lining of the gut serves to filter out potentially harmful components in food. In the first few months of your child’s life, the microbiome in a child’s gut maintains a healthy balance of bacteria that is needed to ward off bad bacteria. Breast milk supplies nutrients and bacteria that nourish the microbiome at the same time as it nourishes the baby. This bacteria aids in protecting the infant from infectious diseases and illnesses and helps the brain to develop properly.
Why You Shouldn’t Introduce Before Then
Many parents are unaware that the gut and brain are tightly connected. A PLoS ONE article notes the direct connection between the gut’s microbiome and the presence of neurodevelopmental disorders like autism. So, when something assaults the gut, it has the potential to affect the brain and other regions of the body, too. When solid foods are introduced too early before the gut is closed and the digestive system has fully developed, injury can occur. In turn, that can cause other adverse events to take place in the body.
Ideal First Foods
The good thing about food in this day and age is that there are options. Of course, when there are options that means there are a range of possibilities in which some will be better choices and some will be worse. The primary reason infants need to start consuming food at nine months old is because they tend to use up their iron reserves by that point in time. Kelly Mom notes there is no perfect time for introducing solids, and that attention should be paid to readiness signs more than age. In addition, supplementation is not only unnecessary but can be harmful to children who don’t need it.
Still, the push to add iron-fortified foods is strong. Most parents are aware of iron-fortified rice cereal. It’s definitely full of iron — synthetic iron. This is one choice, but many parents now prefer to offer their babies more natural forms of iron, such as those that are found in iron-rich foods like tomatoes and pumpkin. These are great options for first foods.
While rice cereal is still a staple in many infant diets across America, the trend is waning. The primary cause behind this is likely to be the reported high arsenic content found in these cereals, per the CNN. In addition, these products are chemical compositions with no whole nutritional value. Furthermore, the addition of grains to a baby’s diet can cause inflammation that can damage the gut, per the journal Nutrients. Other great foods to offer in that first month of dinner times with your little one include:
- Turkey, chicken and beef
- Sweet potatoes
Currently, the consensus is that solid foods shouldn’t be introduced before six months, but to encourage them by the first year. It is possible to breastfeed exclusively for the first year with the addition of certain foods to boost iron levels after nine to 10 months old. Infants still receive the majority of their nutrition from breast milk for the first year of life. The little amount of food they do consume in the last quarter of that first year provides more than just iron. It also gives your baby a lot of experience with food and practice time for motor skills.