Four to six months – in general
Everyone, from your yoga instructor to your mother, has a clear idea of when its best to introduce solid foods to your baby’s diet. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines state that solid foods are best introduced at four to six months of age for most babies. I support those guidelines.
However, the reason they are called “guidelines” and not “unbreakable rules” is because there are some very good reasons to stray from the guidelines based on the baby’s situation. Potentially allergic infants who are not breastfeeding should get solids a bit later than the guidelines call for. Babies with reflux should start solids a bit earlier. What to feed and in what order also is dependent on your baby’s situation – but that’s another post.
Why four to six months matters
Most babies double their birth weight reaching approximately 13 pounds in the first four to six months. During that time, breastmilk with added vitamins (and added fortifier if the baby was premature) or a good commercial formula with added vitamins provides all of the nutrients, vitamins, calories and minerals your baby needs for that first crucial growth sprint.
But after that first growth sprint, your baby’s needs start to outstrip the nutrients he can derive from just human milk or formula. He will often still seem hungry even though he breastfeeding 8 or 10 times per day or drinking over 32 ounces of formula (and keeping it all down). So nutritionally, four to six months is when most babies need to begin solids.
Developmentally, at five or six months of age babies are muscularly better suited for solid food. They are sitting well enough to support their head. They can lean forward when they want to eat and turn away when they are full or just not interested in food. They also can start using their lips to pull food off spoons, and they can move the food from the front of their mouths to the back in or to swallow(lessening the risk of choking or breathing the food). Lastly, their extrusion reflex – sticking out their tongues to push anything odd (including solid food) out of their mouths--disappears at four or five months old. Alas, the loss of the extrusion reflex doesn’t necessarily mean the end of spitting out food – just that your baby is now deciding to do it on his own.
During the first 6 months, the baby’s intestinal tract is also maturing in ways that can help lessen the development of food allergies. Dr. Allan Walker has established that before six months of age, large protein molecules can penetrate the surface of an infant’s intestines. When this happens, the infant can become sensitized to penetrating proteins, which could allow food allergies to develop. Dr. Walker’s research has shown that after six months of age, the cells of the infant’s intestines knit tightly together and form a more effective barrier to the potentially allergy causing proteins. Not every infant is susceptible to developing food allergies in this way, but in my view, its yet another reason to hold off on solid foods until baby is four to six months old as recommended by the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Next- Is my baby a “potentially allergic infant?”