For the first six months of their lives, babies get all the nutrients they need from their mother’s milk. But despite warnings from doctors and midwives that babies should be breastfed until the age of six months, the message doesn’t seem to be getting through.
In an American survey of over 1,300 mothers, two out of five said they gave their baby solid food before the age of 4 months, with 9 percent starting as early as 4 weeks. However, doctors recommend breastfeeding exclusively until a baby is at least 6 months old. In cases where breastfeeding is not possible or desired, baby formula is the best alternative.
Some of the reasons commonly given for giving solid food too soon included “My baby is old enough,” “My baby seemed hungry,” and “I wanted my baby to sleep longer at night.” And yet, introducing solid foods before the body is ready for them is not without consequences. The intestines must have enough time to develop the bacterial flora they need to digest solid foods; otherwise the baby will be at risk for diarrhea or constipation. Mother’s milk also provides antibodies and other immune factors that help babies better prevent and fight infections. A crying baby isn’t necessarily hungry.
How can we tell when babies are ready to eat solid foods? They must be able to sit up and keep their head up. They may look hungrier than usual. They are curious about the foods other people are eating and they put their hands in their mouth. They will open their mouth when shown foods and will pull back or turn their head away if they don’t want any.
There is no specific order for introducing foods. However, it is recommended that only one food be introduced at a time and to wait two to three days before introducing another. That way if the baby has a reaction, it will be easier to determine which food caused it.
If you have any questions about baby nutrition, don’t hesitate to speak to your healthcare professionals.