Starting Solids: The 4-Month Vs. 6-Month Debate
For some strange reason, I remember dreading the day that I would have to start @LittleMrGray on solids. We were doing great on our breast and bottle system and finally getting into formation with our routine as parents; so the thought of throwing in something new to the mix that would possibly thwart our now-settled bliss, gave me nothing but anxiety.
Once we hit our 3-month mark, we were getting suggestions left and right from people suggesting the introduction of cereal (which is considered a solid food) and other foods, as our son's fourth month was on the horizon. But for a baby that couldn't even sit up yet, I just couldn't even process (no pun intended) the thought!
After consulting with our pediatrician, who's solid-food-timeline handouts still reflected the 4-month-start method, we made the decision as parents to wait until the sixth month before introducing solids. Anxiety aside, not only did we not see any signs of "readiness" in our son but a few health organizations provide very good reason:
- Exclusive Breastfeeding for At Least Six Months
- While breast milk is sufficient enough to provide all of the nutrients, vitamins and calories a child needs for their first year of life, it is suggested that a baby is breastfed exclusively for at least the first six months of that child's life. The World Health Organization, UNICEF, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, Australian National Health & Medical Research Council, and Health Canada - all agree!
- Most Babies Will Naturally Become Developmentally and Physiologically Ready to Eat Solid Foods Between 6 and 8 Months of Age
- This includes formula-fed babies too! It has been shown that babies naturally will have developed the necessary growth, motor development, physical and mental coordination to process solid foods between 6-8 months of age. While the former guidelines suggested introducing solids at 4-months; it was simply just that - a suggestion. Suggestive guidelines have nothing to do with natural development. Waiting until the cells lining the baby's gut have closed helps prevent many allergies, gas, rashes, and medical issues.
- Health Benefits
- Babies who have a later introduction to solid foods tend to have greater protection from illness especially if breastfed. Breast milk in particular contains 50+ immune factors and promote "good bacteria" in a baby's stomach to ease digestion. Babies who also have a delayed introduction will have a lower risk of eczema at age 10, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, wheezing in childhood, and increased body weight in childhood. Additionally, in certain countries or areas where there is a lack access to clean water and/or refrigeration, the risk of illness dramatically increases when babies start solids. With the introduction of solid foods comes potential exposure to pathogens that may contaminate food, water, or utensils. For example, one study in the rural Phillipines found up to a 13-fold increased risk of diarrhea with feeding solids. This factor alone justifies the WHO’s recommendation for 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding in these settings.
- Solid Foods Are NOT As Nutritious As Breast Milk Or Formula
These bullet points just scratch the mere surface as to why we decided to postpone the introduction until we reached 6-months, because honestly there is just so much more and the more I read, the more I was convinced. I will happily report though that once we did introduce solids it was a smooth transition! We went right into Baby Led Weaning and watched our son take control of his desire to eat and experiment with food. While his full interest in food didn't fully blossom until months 7-8, it was relieving to see him easily take in his new meals with no adverse reactions or digestion problems.
So yeah, some parents are eager and get their solid foods started early but I hope that the risks are something they become aware of. I've seen that the early introductions usually come with the desire to satisfy a baby longer or to have them sleep through the night but these things all come naturally in development. Feeding your baby a solid food won't increase or decrease these factors in any way.