When to introduce solids to a baby

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When to introduce solids to a baby

Australian and World Health Organisation guidelines recommend introducing solids 180 days after baby’s birth. You could follow this rule to the letter, put 180 red marks on your calendar and then whip up some pumpkin mash for your baby. But if you’re worried that perhaps the right time to introduce solids is just a bit earlier (say day 178) or later (say day 182), there are other ways to assess whether or not it’s the right time to introduce solids.

Signs that baby is ready for solids

By six months of age babies are physically and emotionally ready for solid food. The breastmilk you produce (or formula) is no longer enough to fill them up and they need to eat a bit extra to satisfy their growing tummies. Their little bodies have also developed sufficiently to do all the things that go together with eating solids- for example sitting up and using their hands to hold a spoon.

When your baby is ready to start eating solids to compliment breastmilk, it will already be doing things that show you it is nutritionally, physically and emotionally developed and ready to eat solid foods.

Nutritional readiness

Your baby is nutritionally ready to start eating solid foods in addition to breastfeeding when they are still hungry after a full breastfeed.

Physical readiness

Physical readiness for breastfeeding comes when your baby’s mouth is ready to swallow and it has enough control over its body to sit up and use its arms.

Development of the mouth muscles

Development-of-the-mouth-musclesYou baby is physically ready for complementary solid foods when they have good mouth reflexes (e.g. for swallowing) and can sit up without you supporting them. Baby’s mouth develops the proper reflexes needed to swallow solid foods between 4-6 months of age. Suckling from your breast or feeding from a bottle promotes development of muscles in the mouth and prepares baby for solid foods. In particular the tongue muscles develop to enable solid foods to be shifted from the front to the back of the mouth so that they can be swallowed. Regardless of your baby’s age, choking on solid foods is a sign that they are not yet ready. If your baby chokes, delay starting solids and speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Before this the tongue has a tendency to stick out of the mouth (called an ‘extrusion reflex’ by doctors). It’s kind of cute to look at but it makes eating difficult! Until the muscles in baby’s mouth have developed enough to allow them to hold their tongue in, your baby can only swallow liquids. So if you think your baby is ready for solids, have a good look at their tongue- if it’s still sticking out of the mouth, don’t despair. With another few weeks suckling experience your baby’s mouth muscles will be ready to deal with solids. Another sign that the muscles in your baby’s mouth have developed enough to allow them to start solids is their mouth closing around the spoon when you feed them.

Control of the body

control of the bodyBabies also need to be able to sit independently and use their arms to grab for things before solid foods are introduced. While sitting your baby should be able to maintain good balance and control of its head and neck. They should be able to move their arms around, for example to grab something in front of them. If your baby is bottle-feeding they should be able to control the bottle by themselves. Although your baby will not yet have the hand-eye coordination needed to feed itself, good sitting balance and arm movement indicates baby is physical ready to begin eating solids- and it won’t be long before they’re at least trying to self-feed.

Body weight

Another indicator that your baby is physically ready to start eating solids is its weight. As long as your baby was born at a healthy birth weight (>2500grams) it is ready to begin eating solids when its birth weight has doubled. This is usually at around six months of age.

Emotional readiness

Your baby is emotionally ready to start eating complimentary solid foods when they show an interest in the world (and the food) around them, and can express hunger emotions. Eating is a social thing and baby needs to develop emotionally before they can successfully make the transition from lying down and suckling to sitting up and eating from a spoon.

By about six months of age your baby is probably starting to show signs of independence and is curious about the world around. They should be able to express food related emotions like hunger, for example by opening and closing the mouth or leaning forward when hungry and wanting food. Your baby may lean back and turn away to show they are full. It’s also likely that they will start to be interested in the food you are eating. For example they may reach out and try to grab what you eat. If your baby is showing this level of emotional development, they are emotionally ready to begin solids.

Refusing solids does not mean a baby is not ready

Even if they are developmentally ready, that does not necessarily mean they’ll take to eating solids like a duck to water. Don’t be discouraged if you baby rejects solid foods at first- it does not mean they are not ready. Making the transition from lying down for a bottle or breastfeed, to sitting up for a spoon feed, is a big learning curve. Not only does baby need to become accustomed to the different tastes and textures of foods, they also need to learn to use the muscles in their mouth in different ways. Baby’s jaw muscles need to develop so that they can chew and swallow food.

If they refuse to eat solids the first time you offer them, don’t worry. Wait a day or two and try again.It may take some getting used to but at six months of age your baby is ready to eat solids and with a little patience on your part, they will probably enjoy the experience.

If your baby finds solid foods a bit hard to handle at first, try:

  • Choosing a time when your baby is settled and you’re calm to introduce them to solids.
  • Find a quiet place where your baby will not be distracted.
  • Make sure your baby is not too hungry, or too tired when you try introducing them to solids.
  • Holding your baby in your arms, rather than putting them in a high chair. This might make starting solids easier if your baby seems a bit stressed out about sitting alone in a chair to eat.
  • Talking to your baby and making eye contact with them while you are spoon feeding them.
baby-solids-mainFind out more about starting your baby on solids

References

  1. Samour PQ, Helm KK. Handbook of Pediatric Nutrition. 3rd Ed. Jones and Bartlett Publishers. 2005. (Book)
  2. Pediatrics: A Primary Care Approach. 4th Ed. Editor CD Berkowitz.  American Academy of Pediatricians. 2011. (Book)
  3. Department of Health- Western Australia. Baby’s first foods. 2011. (cited 13 September 2013). Available from: (URL link)
  4. World Health Organisation. Guiding principles for feeding of the breastfed child. 2003. (cited 24 October 2012). Available from (URL link)
  5. Anderson J. Confused about introducing solids? Australian Breastfeeding Association. 2012. (cited 24 October 2012). Available from (URL link)
  6. Queensland Health. Introduction to Solids. 2008. (cited 13 September 2013). Available from: (URL link)
Date Created: October 7, 2013 Date Modified: October 31, 2013

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