The question of when to transition your child onto solid foods is one of the most important and exciting questions that every parent must answer. There’s evidence that starting this process too soon can lead to bad outcomes for your baby, so everyone wants to make sure they get this right.
Lots of professionals in this area have created papers arguing for one process or another, but the truth is that every baby is different. To know when your baby is ready for solid foods, you’re going to need to pay very close attention to their day-by-day development and look for the signs of progress.
Combine this knowledge with an intimate understanding of the physical processes at play in your child’s growth, and you’ll be able to tell right away when they are ready for solids.
In this article, we’ll learn everything you need to know about how this process works and how you can tell when it is right to start trying solid foods with your baby.
Why Not Just Start Right Away?
Most of you probably know already that brand new babies can not handle solid or even mushy foods. For the first few months of life, your baby will eat only the milk/formula that you provide. Have you ever taken time to wonder why that’s the case?
There are a host of physical factors that make it so your baby can not handle sold foods at this age. The most obvious issue is that your baby doesn’t have teeth yet and won’t be able to break down any food that’s not already smooth or in small chunks.
But it’s not teeth alone that make this process work, and your baby is probably going to be ready for solids before all their teeth come in.
The other issue here is that your baby has a strong gag reflex that they must learn to suppress before they can handle swallowing anything solid. This reflex is great to have – it helps your baby get rid of any foreign object that might find its way into their mouth.
Over time, you and your baby need to work together so they can learn which objects are welcome to go down the throat and which are not.
Signs of Progress Towards Solid Foods
So when it comes to judging when your baby is ready for solids, you’ll want to watch as your child starts to reach the stage where they are ready for solid foods. Over time, you’ll see your baby begin to exhibit some or all of these behaviors:
- An interest in food. They may watch others eat, reach out for food other people are eating, or start to open their mouth in advance of the bottle or breast reaching them.
- Developing motor skills with the mouth. Watch as your child becomes more skilled with moving their tongue around and making different noises with their voice.
- Physical growth – as your baby approaches twice their birth weight, their motor skill development will increase in its pace.
Generally speaking, we expect children to start exhibiting these signs somewhere between 4 and six months after birth. Whenever you see that your child has a sufficient interest in food and seems to be ready to try, you should sit down and very carefully make your first attempt.
What to Look For in Your First Attempt
When you first give your child some mushy solid foods, you’ll need to carefully watch to see how they’re reacting so you can tell whether or not this is the right time for them to start.
As your child takes each small bite of food, watch to see how their mouth reacts. Eaters who are ready for these foods will be able to use their gums and tongues to work the food back towards the base of their throat and down their throat.
Your child will not be practiced at this, so some food might come straight out of the mouth at first. That’s not a bad sign, but if you can see that the majority of the food you spoon out isn’t going down, your child might need to spend some more time on the bottle. And that’s ok!
When you’re having your first sessions with solid food, try to do the feeding after your baby has nursed. Even as your child begins to eat new foods, their primary source of calories and nutrition will be milk/formula through until their first birthday. You want the baby to fill up on the liquids and then eat other food as a bonus, not the other way around.
At one time, it was thought that babies should be kept away from common allergens, like fish, nuts, and eggs. The thinking was that their vulnerable bodies should be kept safe by limiting their exposure to things that might give them an allergic reaction.
Modern writing on this subject has found that keeping children away from these foods can help bring on a food allergy later in life. Today, health care professionals recommend that you go ahead and introduce your child to these foods as soon as they’re ready, but take care to notice if they react.
Introduce Foods Slowly
When introducing new foods to your baby, give them a small amount at first, and add one new food at a time. Then observe them over the next few hours to make sure they don’t have an allergic reaction, which may include swelling or a rash on the mouth or hands.
Bringing it all together
It’s never easy to know when your child is ready for the big move to solid foods. But by watching your child’s progression closely, you can track the changes in their behavior that will signal they are ready for their first real meals. Once you take the plunge, you can introduce your child to all kinds of foods and figure out what their favorite is.