A Solid Start: When To Introduce Solid Food To Your Breastfeeding Infant
A Solid Start
Since birth, your baby has been on a diet of nutrient dense breast milk. Before you know it though, your precious little bundle is going to be ready for a more varied diet. In preparation, you've probably bought bowls and plastic spoons. You finally get an excuse to use those adorable bibs you were given at your baby shower, for something other than drool. There's no doubt that feeding your little one their first solid food can be an exciting experience. Make sure you have your camera ready, because it's almost sure to be a great photo opportunity!
Amidst all of the excitement you might start feeling a bit apprehensive: Is my baby really ready for this? Am I feeding my baby the right first food? You might be feeling pressure from family members or friends to start solids before you think your baby is ready. Every new mother questions whether or not they are making the right choices for their baby from time to time. Hopefully, in this article, I can help clear up some of your questions and doubts about the first steps to solid foods.
Is My Baby Ready?
Breast milk provides of the nutrients your baby needs for the first 6 months of life. Breastfeeding and health experts agree that it's best to wait until your baby is at least 6 months old before you offer him/her solid foods. Often times nurses and pediatricians will give the green light for solid food at 4 months of age or even earlier. In many babies though, the gut may not have fully matured until around the 6 month mark. In fact, both the World Health Organization, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Exclusive breastfeeding means no cereal, juice, or any other foods, only breast milk. So as you can see, there is no need to rush things.
There are many indications you can observe to help you determine whether or not you baby is ready for solid foods, but there are some you can not. Developmental signs as well as the maturity of the baby's digestive tract, determine a baby's readiness for solids. Research has shown a reduction, and other digestive health problems, if the introduction of solids is delayed until 6 months of age. There is no exact timeline that babies will follow in their readiness for solid food, since all babies develop differently and at different rates. However, most babies are developmentally ready and physically mature enough for solids between 6 and 8 months.
In some cases you may find that your baby old isn't interested in solids yet. If you've attempted a few different foods and your baby isn't interested, don't panic. As long as your baby is thriving, and gaining weight, it is perfectly fine to wait longer than 6 months. Some people wait as long as a year to introduce solid food to their baby. Remember the old saying, "food for fun under 1!"
Reasons To Delay Solids
With all of this information available, why is there such a rush to start babies on solid foods as early as 4 months? Well for starters, many people seem to believe that the introduction of solids may help their babies sleep through the night. I have heard many tired parents over the years eager to start feeding their baby's rice cereal, under the false impression that their baby would sleep more. Nine times out of ten these parents just ended up feeling disappointed when this didn't work out for them. The fact is that in many countries babies thrive on breast milk alone for a year or longer, and their are many benefits for delaying solids at least 6 months.
Benefits For Baby
- Delaying solids offers more protection from illnesses. While it's true that babies receive immunities from breast milk for as long as they are breastfed, they receive the greatest immunity while they are exclusively breastfed. That means fewer ear, and respiratory infections for exclusively breastfed babies.
- Decreased risk of food allergies. From the time a baby is born until somewhere between 4 and 6 months old babies have an open gut. This allows the antibodies in your milk to pass more easily into your baby's bloodstream, but it may also predispose your baby to allergies by allowing the large proteins from other foods to pass through as well.
- It gives your baby's digestive system some time to mature. Babies don't produce enough digestive enzymes and acids at birth to be able to digest foods other than breast milk. These enzymes don't begin to reach the appropriate levels for solid food digestion until around 6 months. Giving your baby solid food too early can lead to a gassy, fussy baby.
- Reduced risk of anemia. Giving you baby iron supplement or iron-fortified foods too before 6 months can decrease how effectively your baby absorbs iron.
- Later introduction of solids food can help fight future obesity. Increased body fat and childhood obesity have been associated with the early introduction of solid foods.
Benefits For Mom
- It aids naturally in contraception. While breastfeeding is not 100% reliable in preventing pregnancy, it is much more effective while you are exclusively breastfeeding. Many women will not have a normal menstrual cycle until after they introduce other foods into their baby's diet.
- It can help you lose your baby weight. The average exclusively breastfeeding mom needs an extra 500 calories a day while they're breastfeeding. Many women find that they lose weight during this time rather effortlessly.
Signs Your Baby Is Developmentally Ready
- Baby sits up well on their own with no support.
- Loss of the tongue thrust reflex. (No longer pushes food out of mouth with tongue)
- Baby shows interest in participating in mealtime. They may try to grab your food and even put it in their mouth.
- Baby is able to chew food.
- Your baby has started developing the "pincer" grasp and picks things up using their thumb and index finger.
- A long term and increased demand to nurse more frequently. This only applies after teething pain, growth spurts, and other possible illnesses have been ruled out.
Fruits or Veggies?
There are many schools of thought on what to introduce as the first food. Some people feel that you need to introduce vegetables first or baby will not eat them after trying sweeter fruits. Others say that you should introduce fruits first because they are sweeter, and baby will be more likely to accept them, and learn to eat more effectively. The truth is that while you need to introduce foods one at a time, it doesn't really matter which you offer first, as long as you offer a variety of foods. You breastfed baby has already had the experience of many flavors from your own breast milk because the flavor changes depending on what you eat. If you come across a food that your baby is not willing to eat, wait a week or two and try offering that food again, especially if that food it a different texture than baby is used to. My one year old likes fruits and vegetables despite the fact that I gave him fruits first. It took him a while to warm up to peas though, because they were a thicker texture than the other baby foods.
Please Keep In Mind
There is no absolute timeline for starting a baby on solid food. Some babies will be ready early, and some may not be ready until 9 months or even later. Every baby is different! Don't let pressure from family and friends dictate when you decide to start your baby on solids. You are the expert on your baby, and you know better than anyone whether you baby might be ready for solid foods or not.
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