When your baby was a newborn, your feeding options were pretty straightforward (though maybe not simple): breast or bottle? And for a while, breastmilk and/or formula is all your little one needs to be well-nourished. But, there comes a time when your baby will be ready for a little more, and at that point, you’ll need to introduce solid foods into your baby’s diet.
Introducing solids is a big step (especially for you first-time parents!) And one of the first questions parents have about solid foods is, “When should I start baby on solid foods?”
When to Start Solids: Signs Your Baby is Ready for Solids
These physical signs indicate that your baby may be ready to start solids:
- Your baby has good head control and is able to sit up with support. This is a big one. Before starting solids, your baby needs to be able to hold her head up, on her own (so that she’s able to swallow), and she needs to be able to sit up straight. For most babies, that’s usually no earlier than 4 months old.
- Your baby shows an interest in food. Maybe you’ve noticed your little guy staring at you while you eat dinner, or maybe you’ve caught him reaching out and trying to grab that food right off your fork! When babies begin showing an interest in food, it may be a sign that they’re ready to start solids. (Keep in mind, though, that this sign alone doesn’t indicate readiness. It should appear along with some of the other signs listed here.)
- Your baby has lost the “tongue-thrust” reflex. For the first 4 months of your baby’s life, she has a tongue-thrust reflex to protect against choking — when an object ends up on her tongue, she automatically pushes it out of her mouth. After 4 months, your baby gradually loses this reflex, so that when you put a spoonful of food in her mouth, she’s able to swallow it.
- Your baby attempts to mash or chew food. When you put food in his mouth, your baby should automatically mash it with his gums. If he does, it’s a sign that he’s ready for solids.
- Your baby lets you know when she’s full. You may notice that your baby begins to turn away from the bottle or breast when she’s had enough. This is a sign that she’s able to self-regulate her appetite, which is an important step in being ready to start solids.
When to Start Solids: What age?
Of course, the calendar can be (and traditionally has been) an indicator of when it’s time to start solids. Parents (as well as healthcare providers) consider a baby’s age when deciding if it’s best to start solids. This can be misleading, however, since age recommendations for starting solids have changed over the years.
Decades ago, it wasn’t uncommon for moms to start their babies on solids at a very young age — 1 or 2 months old! Over the years, however, as medical and nutritional sciences have evolved, moms have been encouraged to wait a little longer before starting solids. Over time, 4-6 months of age has become the recommended starting place.
Recently, however, the window for starting solids has been pushed back even further; now, experts recommend starting solids closer to 6 months, if possible (some even recommend waiting to start until after 6 months). There are a number of reasons for this recommendation to delay solids, including:
- Decreasing the risk of food allergies.
- Decreasing the risk of future obesity.
- Decreasing the risk of iron-deficiency anemia.
- Allowing the baby’s immune and digestive systems more time to mature.
When to Start Solids: Is “My Baby Seems Hungry” A Good Reason to Start Solids?
So we know some of the signs a baby may show indicating she’s ready to start solids. And we’ve established the age when it’s best to start (around 6 months). But often, the number one reason a parent considers starting solids is simply that your baby seems hungry. The baby may begin waking more often at night or demanding to be nursed/bottle fed more frequently than usual. This often starts to happen around 4 months of age, and it may seem like a sign that the baby isn’t getting enough to eat and needs something more.
Be cautious about using this as a reason to start solids, however. Keep in mind that many babies experience a growth spurt around 4 months of age, so that could be the reason your baby is suddenly waking up hungry at night, or needing to nurse more frequently during the day. Growth spurts don’t last long (around a week or so), so it’s best just to wait these out, before starting your baby on solids.
We need to remember, too, that the famous 4 month sleep regression occurs at this time, too. So it’s possible that the sudden night waking has nothing to do with hunger and instead has to do with the fact that your baby’s sleep patterns are becoming more like an adult’s. In this case, starting solids early wouldn’t help your baby sleep, simply because it’s not hunger that’s causing her to wake in the first place.
Based on this, it’s best to avoid starting solids before 5 or 6 months of age, even if your baby seems hungrier than usual around 4 months. Instead, we recommend that you increase your nursing, or offer more bottles during the day and continue to feed as necessary at night.
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