It may be hard to imagine that the little mouth that’s been suckling your breasts for the past six months is already ready to eat from a spoon. Whether the realisation that baby’s just about ready for a spoon is pure relief or a bit of a disappointment, you may still look at your 6 month old and think s/he could not possibly be ready for solids just yet.
Certainly the transition from breast to spoon will still be a learning curve, but by six months of age it’s highly likely that your baby is showing signs that they’re ready (see when to introduce solids) for a bit of pear puree recipe or some other baby delicacy (see baby recipes). And there are many good reasons not to delay their eating development.
Baby feeding schedule
Exclusive formula or breast feeding (feeding breast or formula milk only) is recommended until a baby is six months (180 days) old. However, as your baby grows older, their nutritional requirements change and breast and formula milk can no longer provide for all baby’s nutritional requirements. To ensure your baby gets the best possible nutrition, it is important to introduce solid foods into their diet as soon as they reach six months of age. Making the transition to solids at six months also plays an important role in promoting your baby’s healthy physical and emotional development.
Why introducing solids at 6 months is important
Introducing solid foods is the only way to teach babies to chew and swallow instead of suck. And let’s face it, as enjoyable as breastfeeding can be for mums and bubs, this special stage of life can’t last forever. Sooner or later they’re going to need to learn to use a spoon and chew up ‘real’ food. And delaying this step in your baby’s development can also cause delays in other aspects of you baby’s physical and emotional growth.
Helping your baby transition gradually from a diet which consists exclusively of breast or formula milk, to a diet which includes food from a range of groups with different textures and consistencies is teaching them skills they will use for a life time. The transition from milk should begin at six months of age and by 12 months your baby should be eating a full range of healthy foods. Delays in starting solids slows the whole development process down and is associated with many disadvantages.
Disadvantages of delaying solids
Baby development is a holistic thing, and delays in one area of development like starting the transition to solid foods, can also cause delays in other areas of development, like learning to control the body and its movements.
Nutritional effects of delaying solids
Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for a baby until 6 months of age and contains all the nutrients your baby needs to support its growth in the early months. It remains an important source of nutrition for baby until they are two years old. However, once baby reaches 6 months, they need more energy (calories) which means that the breastmilk you produce just won’t be enough to satisfy their hunger.
From 6 months of age babies also need a different combination of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Breastmilk alone it cannot provide all the micronutrients a 7-24 month old baby needs. Solid foods, often also called complementary foods, are required to complement the nutrients of breastmilk once your baby reaches six months.
Baby’s energy requirements increase at six months of age partly because the stores of zinc and iron which built up in their liver during pregnancy start to decline. Breastmilk contains relatively low concentrations of iron and zinc, so complimentary foods are needed to ensure baby gets enough. Complementary foods are also an important source of additional protein and other micronutrients which may be lacking in breastmilk, including calcium and vitamin A. Continuing exclusive breastfeeding after six months may lead to growth faltering (failure to grow at an adequate rate for age) and/or malnutrition (weighing too little for their length). Iron fortified cereals provide sufficient iron, but not zinc. Meat is needed to provide baby’s zinc requirement.
Emotional effects of delaying solids
At about six months of age your baby’s emotions have developed considerably. They should be showing an interest in the world around them at this age and be able to express emotions about hunger, for example by opening and closing their mouth when they are hungry, and turning away when they don’t want food. Solid foods introduce your baby to new tastes and behaviours and introducing them at six months of age stimulates your baby’s mind and helps them develop intellectually. Your baby may be less adaptable to new tastes if they start eating solids too late.
Physical effects of delaying solids
In addition to providing your baby the energy it requires to grow physically healthy, starting solids is also a key step in developing muscles which allow your baby to control its body and use its mouth properly.
Babies develop the physical skills needed to eat solid foods at around six months of age. These include head control, the ability to sit unsupported and a wider range of hand and arm movements. Sitting up to eat solids helps them develop these physical skills.
Mouth and jaw
Development of the mouth and jaw are also important physical requirements for eating solid foods. As it increases in size, your baby’s mouth begins to open more easily and becomes less prone to thrusting its tongue out of the mouth. At this stage baby can open its mouth in response to a spoon touching it, and hold its tongue in the mouth to ensure food is held inside. Babies also develop the ability to swallow, rather than only suck, at around six months of age. This helps them keep food in their mouth and move it to the back of the mouth for swallowing.
Once babies develop their jaw and mouth muscles they needs to use them to continue the development. Eating solid foods is the best way to develop the mouth and jaws muscles. To help your baby develop the muscles of their mouth, introduce solid foods gradually in a transitional manner which takes into account how well your baby can swallow. Start with soft purees, before introducing soft lumpy food and then harder finger food which your baby needs to chew.
Delaying the introduction of solids can delay the development of mouth and jaw muscles. This may in turn affect food preference later in life, for example if baby does not properly develop chewing muscles they may dislike foods that need chewing. The jaw and mouth muscles also play an important role in speech and language development. Speech difficulties have also been associated with delayed introduction of solids.
There is also an increased risk of allergies if solids are started too late.
|Find out more about starting your baby on solids|
- World Health Organisation. Guiding principles for feeding of the breastfed child. 2003. (cited 30 September 2013). Available from: (URL link)
- Queensland Health. Introduction to Solids. 2008. (cited 13 September 2013). Available from: (URL link)
- Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Year. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Good Books. Editors EH Kych, RV Johnson, WJ Cook. 2012. (Book)
- Mannel R, Martens PJ, Walker M. Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice. International Lactation Consultant Association. Jones and Bartlett Publishers. 2008. (Book)
- Anderson J. Confused about introducing solids? Australian Breastfeeding Association. 2012. (cited 30 September 2013). Available from: (URL link)
- Samour PQ, Helm KK. Handbook of Pediatric Nutrition. 3rd Ed. Jones and Bartlett Publishers. 2005. (Book)
- Department of Health- Western Australia. Baby’s first foods. 2011. (cited 30 September 2013). Available from: (URL link)
- Department of Health and Ageing. Get up and grow: 2009. (cited 30 September 2013). Available from: (URL link)