We reached a milestone a couple weeks ago – Baby Andrew turned 6 months! I can’t even believe he’s halfway to a year already! Where does the time go??
One reason the six month mark is a big deal at our house is because it means we start introducing solid food! I know a lot of people start introducing rice cereal (something I won’t do at all this time around) and solid food at four months, but after doing some research when my first baby was an infant, I found overwhelming evidence to convince me to wait until six months.
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This is not at all to judge or shame anyone who has chosen to start solids at four months. Until relatively recently, that was the traditionally accepted time to start. Many new moms are still given this advice by their mothers, grandmothers, friends, and even pediatricians. I know I have been pushed by a few to start early.
However, the vast majority of current research now recommends waiting until 6 months to start introducing solids.
The purpose of this post, therefore, is not to condemn or put down anyone who chooses otherwise, but simply to share what I have learned. Many moms do not know any differently, and I want to help them make the most informed decision possible. What they do with this information is then up to them!
When Should I Start Introducing Solids? What the Experts Say
Most moms begin to hear they should start feeding their baby solid food by the time their baby is about four months old. However, the 4-6 month range is actually an outdated recommendation. The current consensus among most researchers, health scientists, and breastfeeding experts now recommends babies be six months of age or older before starting solid food.
Here are just a few organizations (there are many others) that have now modified their recommendations to agree with current research that it is best for babies to remain exclusively breast or formula fed for the first six months of life:
- World Health Organization
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Academy of Family Physicians
- Australian National Health and Medical Research Council
- Health Canada
My Top Reasons to Wait:
Greater protection from illness
If the baby is breastfed, he/she receives the greatest immunity when exclusively breastfed.
Digestive system is more fully-developed
Several parts of a baby’s digestive system are not fully developed until around 6 months of age.
For one, the enzymes necessary for breaking down fats, protein, and complex carbohydrates have not yet been produced. Feeding a baby food before this development can lead to issues like gas, constipation, vomiting, and diarrhea.
In addition, prior to 6 months of age, a baby’s digestive system has what is called “open gut” – spaces between the cells of the small intestine which allows macromolecules to pass through it into the bloodstream. While a baby is exclusively breastfed, this is a good thing – it allows good antibodies from the breastmilk to easily pass into the bloodstream, building up an immune system against illness and allergic reaction. Most babies begin to produce these antibodies on their own around 6 months, around the time this “open gut” closes. This is why feeding babies solid food before 6 months has been linked to increased risk for food allergies.
To learn more about the development of baby’s digestive system:
Lower risk of obesity
Delaying the introduction of solid food until 6 months has been strongly associated with lower incidences of obesity and Type 2 diabetes later in life.
Solid food is less nutrient-dense than breastmilk or formula.
Solid food is less nutrient-dense than breastmilk or formula, so we prefer to stick with the more nutrient and vitamin-packed breastmilk diet for as long as possible.
On the other hand, this may not be a convincing argument for me if I were using formula. While my research shows that formula is more nutrient-dense than the typical first foods, given what I’ve been learning about “real” versus processed foods, I might prefer that my babies get their nutrients (albeit in slightly lower levels) from real food sources rather than from formula. (No shame in using formula! You do what you gotta do to feed that precious baby. Fed is best!) But since I have exclusively breastfed both my babies, I stick with breastmilk’s benefits for as long as possible.
More ready to handle semi-solid or solid food.
Young babies have what’s called a tongue thrust reflex to keep them from choking. Liquids (such as breastmilk) are able to get around it, but when anything more solid is placed on the tongue, a young baby’s tongue will push it out rather than back to the throat. Babies usually develop the ability to push food from the front of the mouth to the back around 6 months of age (though some do develop it sooner).
In addition, an infant’s tongue and swallowing mechanism are designed to work best for sucking. In most babies, these two things are not able to work together effectively for eating solid food until closer to 6 months of age.
Waiting until these developments means you can skip right over the unnecessary rice cereal and thin purees and go straight for the semi-solid and solid food. This may lead to an easier transition to table food.
(Note: Our first baby had a terrible time transitioning to food. We waited until six months with him, but we started with rice cereal, something I definitely will not be doing this time around.)
Refuting the 2 most common arguments against waiting:
My baby is too hungry
Introducing foods does not generally add to overall caloric intake, it simply replaces some of baby’s intake of the nutrient-dense and immunity-offering milk.
(See point #10 of this section of Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which states,
“Introduction of complementary feedings before 6 months of age generally does not increase total caloric intake or rate of growth and only substitutes foods that lack the protective components of human milk.”)
I want my baby to sleep longer at night
There is no medical evidence to support this.
Here are two great arguments against the popular advice to add cereal to the last bottle to make baby sleep longer:
Those are just a few of the reasons we have decided to wait until 6 months to start our babies on solid food. Did you learn something new?
Want to study this topic further? Here are a few really helpful resources to help you learn more:
Don’t Feed Your Baby Solid Food Before 6 Months | Cleveland Clinic
Many Babies Fed Solid Food Too Soon | NY Times
When is the Best Time to Start My Baby on Foods Other Than Breastmilk? | Breastfeeding USA
Introducing Your 6-8 Month Old Baby to Solid Foods – Solid Food Charts | Wholesome Baby Food
I’m going to be doing an entire series on baby food over the next few months, so be sure to follow me on Facebook or subscribe to my newsletter below to catch all the new posts in the series!
Here is what you have to look forward to:
- Why I won’t be feeding my second baby rice cereal
- Why I make my own baby food (and why it’s not as hard as it sounds!)
- My favorite tips for introducing new foods
- Some of my favorite non-traditional baby foods (so much more fun than peas & carrots!)
- My Epic List of Tips for a Fabulous Pregnancy
- An Epic List of Breastfeeding Tips & Resources
- 3 Sanity-Saving Baby Products Every Parent Truly Needs
- How We Prepared Our Toddler for the New Baby