The current recommendation is for babies to be exclusively breastfed or formula fed till six months of age. This means no additional water or food until you begin feeding your baby solids.
Breast milk & formula is a complete nutritional source for babies from birth till 6 months of age. From around six months onwards-additional nutrients are needed from food.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends starting solids from six months. I feel it is important to acknowledge that every baby is different, so there is really no magic number that says start feeding your baby on this date / at this age.
Instead of waiting for the 6 month date, look for these developmental signs.
These signs will tell you if your baby is developmentally ready to digest food.
- Interest in food.
When babies are ready for solids they start leaning forward at the sight of food and opening their mouth in a preparatory way. They might start grabbing your food or getting excited watching the family mealtime.
Whilst this is super cute & it almost feels mean to eat in front of them, this cue should not be stand-alone.
I’ve observed this developmental cue from around 4-5 months but most babies are not showing all the developmental signs this early. If your little one is showing interest but not quite ready, I still recommend involving the baby in family mealtimes by sitting them at the table in a high chair or holding them. They learn so much from watching their loved ones eat.
You can also offer them a veggie stick (eg. Raw carrot or celery stick) to play with, they won't necessarily eat it but it will support their hand to mouth coordination & may feel nice on their teething gums.
- Pincer grasp
Those adorable little hands picking up food or a spoon with their thumb & forefinger is called a pincer grasp, this is a fine motor skill that they begin to develop around 6 months old & they will practise mastering this new skill over the coming months. Look for this development; it is another good sign that they’re getting ready for solids.
- Head Control
Babies need to develop strength from their head, through their neck, all the way down to their core. This is an important development for swallowing. This strength also allows babies to turn their head away if they’ve had enough.
- Sitting unassisted in a highchair.
This is an important milestone and I encourage you to hold off on starting solids till they can sit unsupported.
When babies can sit up unassisted they have developed core strength for the muscles to help food move through the digestive tract this is called peristalsis. Peristalsis is a series of muscle contractions and relaxations that occur along the course of the intestinal tract to push food and waste products through the bowel.
- Loss of the tongue thrust reflex.
The tongue thrust reflex is a natural survival mechanism babies are born to prevent choking. A tongue thrust or extrusion reflex is the motion that causes the tongue of the baby to move forward as soon as something touches his lips.
A good test is to see if they push their tongue out when a spoon or bit of food is placed in their mouth. Sometimes this is mistaken as a baby not liking food.
This reflex will generally move back from around 5-6 months.
One of the most common problems I see is babies being fed too early. I can’t emphasise this enough –the gut of a new baby is very different to an older child’s and must be treated with care.
Starting solids too early can cause digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhoea, wind due to undigested food & even conditions like eczema.
Your baby will show you all of these signs when they're ready to begin the wonderful lifelong journey of food.
By Gina Urlich
BHSc Clinical Nutritionist