It’s incredibly important to know when your baby is ready to be introduced to solids.
There are many reasons why parents may want to start solids earlier than 6 months, particularly if weight gain is an issue in your little one. Family and peers can be a major source of pressure to push you into introducing solids sooner than planned. In some cases even medical practitioners may encourage you to start solids sooner to assist in weight gain.
But how do you know if your child is actually ready?
Your child will let you know when they are ready from a developmental point of view as well as from a medical aspect, their digestive system needs to be mature enough to be able to process and digest solids. These two aspects normally work hand in hand and your child showing their developmental readiness gives a strong indication that they are ready for solids.
From a developmental point they need to:
- Be able to sit unaided. This means they need to be able to hold up and control their own body weight without the assistance of an infant seat or cushions.
- Have lost their tongue-thrust reflex. This is when they stop automatically pushing solids out of their mouths with the use of their tongue.
- Be showing an active interest in your food and mealtimes, trying to grab food from your plate and intently watching you eat.
- Be developing a good pincer grasp by being able to pick up food and/or other objects between their thumbs and forefingers.
- Most notably is that a baby under the age of 4 months has not developed the required oral co-ordination and muscle strength and cannot suitably work or process solids. The lack of oral and muscle co-ordination places your baby at risk of choking and aspirating on food their body is telling you that they are not ready for.
From a digestive aspect they need to:
- Be a minimum of 4 months old, but 6 months is preferable.
- The recommendation is to exclusively feed a child breastmilk/formula for the first 6 months of their lives as their digestive system is not developed enough yet to suitably process and digest more than breastmilk/formula
The introduction to solids before the age of 4-6 months can pose serious risks and complications for your baby, including:
- an increased risk of food being sucked into their airway and causing aspiration;
- causing your baby to get either too much or too little calories or too much nutrients;
- increase their changes of obesity;
- cause an association of discomfort and distrust to solids; and
- increase the risk of developing allergic reactions, eczema and bouts of wheezing.
Recently statistics were released in South Africa showing the very real danger of introducing solids to infants before their digestive systems, oral motor skills and specific developmental milestones have been met:
‘’According to the 2018 Stats SA’s report on Mortality and causes of death in South Africa, the leading cause of death among infants is respiratory and cardiovascular disorders specific to the perinatal period (responsible for 14,8% deaths), while intestinal infectious diseases is the third leading cause of death (responsible for 6,7%). Professor Siyazi Mda, principal paediatrican at Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital near Ga-Rankuwa, says babies and young children who suffer from diarrhoea, lower respiratory infections and undernutrition as a result, risk these conditions increasing with the introduction of solids before six months.
According to Professor Mda, a number of studies show that the early introduction of solids in babies is associated with allergic diseases, including eczema and an increased rate of wheezing. “In developing countries, babies who start solids early are prone to undernutrition, while in developed countries there is an association with obesity and increased body fat, which are risk factors for diabetes,” he says.
He adds that the oral muscles of a child younger than four months are not suitable for solid foods and there is often a problem with the coordination of swallowing, increasing the chances of choking.
Heidi du Preez, a professional natural scientist from Cape Town, says that before four months, the digestive tract of a baby is immature and solids increase the risk of baby developing allergies.
The intestine of an infant during the first six months is very porous, which means foreign proteins in allergy-producing foods are easily absorbed from the intestine into the blood. Introducing grains too soon can lead to constipation, blocked noses and itchy skin and food intolerances,” she says.’’
If your baby hasn’t shown all these signs, they are not ready for solids. Up to the age of 6 months breastmilk and formula are all which they require to stay nourished, healthy and growing.
As parents we are placed under immense pressure from our peers and sometimes medical practitioners for our children to weigh a certain amount at a certain age. Family will offer up their own stories of how their children were fed solids at 2 months old and ‘were fine’. Medical professionals will push that your infant needs to gain weight faster because they aren’t fitting into a graph well enough. If your baby is healthy, happy, wetting and dirtying nappies at a normal rate, sleeps well, feeds well, is growing consistently and meeting their developmental milestones, why rush the process and potentially place them at unnecessary risk for complications that place both their health and well being at risk?
As the mother of a child with a history of severe oral muscular complications, food aversions and weight gain issues I know all too well the pressure which is placed on parents. We went with medical advice to start on solids before our daughter was developmentally ready and I still firmly believe it is one of the main contributing factors that led towards her struggles with learning the right skill sets and confidence for a successful start and transition onto solids.
Give them the time they need to develop the right set of skills that will encourage a positive introduction into solids and make the process an enjoyable one for all involved.