Solids – the simple answer

Ah the conundrum of solid foods and ‘when’ to introduce them. Lately I have been asked the question of “has Imogen started solids” or “when are you starting her on solids”. This is something that is in the forefront of parents minds and usually up for a lot of debate.

There is a lot of different advice out there from starting at 4 months …. To starting at 6 months and everything in between. I once read a really scary statistic from a study done by the CDC which showed over 40% of the babies studied had started solids before four months and 9% before four weeks!

Science is starting to uncover and understand the impact on the role of gut flora/gut health and how it effects well pretty much everything. With the ever increasing amounts of childhood illnesses such as asthma, allergies, autism, diabetes, obesity etc that is seen today the thought of parents introducing solids well before any recommendations and the impact that could have is incredibly scary.

I’m sure most people have heard of the ‘virgin gut theory’. You can read a great explanation here. Whilst I agree with the concept of the gut needing to be ready and developed enough to accept solid foods – giving a ‘blanket’ rule still doesn’t sit right with me. 

Even with a blanket rule of six months … What is even considered six months? Is it six calendar months? Is it 24 weeks? Do you take gestation into account (ie. if baby was born at 38 weeks do you allow an extra two weeks or if a baby born at 42 weeks do you subtract two weeks)?

And what about the “signs” of being ready for solids??? Some of the regular ones you will hear are along the lines of:

– reaching double birth weight

– the arrival of teeth

– being ‘interested’ in food

– being able to sit independently

– waking through the night

– appearing hungry

– making chewing motions

Confused yet??

  

Imogen is rapidly approaching the six calendar months and was 24 weeks today and ticks all those boxes but is she ready for solids? Despite watching me intently as I eat from eight weeks, doubling her hefty birth weight and sitting independently from four months and having teeth from five months the answer is …. No!

How do I know this and what have I learnt from years of study into the subject for the breastfed infant? (Please note these thoughts are only for the breastfed infant as formula fed babies do in fact need to source extra nutrition from food sources around the four month mark as formula unlike breastmilk doesn’t change to the needs of the infant).

Starting solid foods is just like any other physical milestone. With a basic knowledge of human biology we know that every child is an individual and will be developmentally ready for milestones at different times so why do we have one for introducing solids?

Imagine if we approached other milestones like we do solids … Oh little Jimmy is 4 months and 15 days today so we must start him sitting. Pretty illogical right?

To give a “start date” or blanket rule just seems preposterous to me …. Yes even the six month rule. Just like ‘most’ babies walk at or very close to 12 months some walk at 10 months and others not until 14 months which are all within normal parameters for that particular milestone. Most babies will be ready for solid foods around six months but some babies will be ready earlier/later then others and we should let them guide the way rather then forcing them to eat solid food before they are ready.

So I know Imogen is ready for solid food when she can pick up a piece of food, bring that piece of food to her mouth and bite, chew and swallow …. Simple as that.

The theory behind this being that her body wouldn’t allow her to be physically ready to consume food before her gut is ready to receive food.

  
I’m not sure when that will be for her and I’m sure it’s not too far around the corner but it just makes sense that the gut will be developmentally ready when she is physically ready to do those steps and NOT before.

She is definitely in practice mode at the moment and is starting to steal food from myself or her sister and puts it to her mouth but doesn’t have the bite, chew or swallow motion going on. I haven’t stopped her if she does grab something off my plate, yet by watching what she does with said food is a great indication that her body is not ready for solids.

  

(Imogen looking very proud of herself as she stole the apple out of Daddy’s hand)

This school of thought totally negates the need for any pureeing or mashing of food and in fact if I was to feed her puréed food which I’m sure she would love … I would in fact be introducing food before her body is truly ready and possibly cause her life long issues.

When she is physically capable to consume solid foods I will simply be providing a variety of substantial whole family foods such as avocado, broccoli, carrots, slightly steamed apples, cooked meats, eggs etc cut in large (bigger the then her hand) pieces so she can negate them easily. Basically anything we are eating she will eat within reason (she won’t be having any of mummy’s chocolate!). You can read more on what foods to introduce, how to prepare them and more on baby led weaning here.

So the simple answer to when is a baby ready for solids is ….. Probably somewhere around the six month mark and when your baby can grab, bite, chew and swallow.

Tamika Newman

RN, RM, IBCLC

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