Most parents will agree that when it comes time to start their baby on solids for the first time they can be feeling a little lost. There’s an abundance of information and opinions out there from both health professionals and well-meaning friends and family members but this can often lead to more confusion about when is the right time to start.
The following information I’m going to share with you is the most current up-to-date evidence based facts on how to tell if your baby is ready for solids.
In recent times the standard advice given on when to start your baby on solids was ‘between 4-6 months but not before 4 months’. This lead to some confusion amongst parents and some health professionals with parents being told or assuming that once their baby was 4 months old they were able to start solids when they preferred. However research shows that most babies are not ready to start solids at 4 months of age and beginning an infant on solids before they are ready can lead to feeding challenges as they grow older.
The most recent guidelines released in Australia by ASCIA (Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy) in 2016 have changed the phrasing to the following,
Start to introduce solid foods around 6 months (not before 4 months) and when your baby is ready.
It is hoped that the new phrasing will help to guide parents and health professionals in the right direction when it comes time to start solids. Research shows that most babies will be ready to start solids around the 6 month mark, some may start a little earlier and some a little later. It is rare for a baby to be ready before 5 months and solids should be started no later than 7 months to avoid possible nutrient deficiencies.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also states the following
WHO recommends that infants start receiving complementary foods at 6 months of age in addition to breast milk
What are the developmental signs that your baby is ready for solids?
All babies develop at different times and it is important to watch for signs that show that your baby is ready to start their journey into solid food.
1. Have strong head and neck strength
Being able to hold up their head and keep it steady will allow them to accept food and swallow without a risk of choking. This is usually the first sign towards starting solids.
2. They can sit up with minimal support
Make sure that your baby can sit up with limited assistance, a towel or pillow propped behind them in the highchair is ok to help posture but they should be able to sit upright on their own.
3. Loss of extrusion reflex
Also known as the tongue-thrust reflex. When babies are born they have a reflex that allows them to push out any food or foreign substance with their tongue to help prevent choking. While they have this reflex your baby isn’t physically capable of moving food to the back of their mouth to swallow. It usually disappears around 4-6 months and is one of the signs your baby is ready to try solids.
4. Showing interest in your food
Your baby will start to show interest whenever you’re eating. They might start following your food as you put it in your mouth or reaching out and trying to grab food off your plate.
5. Opening their mouth when food is presented to them
If you’re baby is showing all the above signs and you present them with some food and they open their mouth in anticipation when they see it coming (they might even lean in towards the food) then you’ve got yourself a baby that is ready to start their journey into the world of solid foods.
To summarise, the most recent guidelines state waiting until around 6 months of age to begin solids but it’s also wise to take into consideration your baby’s own developmental cues in addition to their calendar age when it comes to beginning solid foods. Allowing your baby to start when they are developmentally ready gives your feeding relationship the best chance at success from an early age.