Lately, as my son approaches the six month mark, I seem to be warding off ‘well-meaning’ advice on this topic... every which way I turn. It is a very old-fashioned view, to say that a baby NEEDS to be on solids by 6 months the latest. The 'modern' view is the later the better, thanks to new scientific research on babies and their digestive systems. Recently the World Health Organisation has started recommending that you wait until at least 6 months before starting solids.
I firmly believe, and have for many a years, that the longer you are breastfed exclusively, the longer your baby's digestive tract has time to get itself in order and the less likely your baby is going to suffer from problems in future. According to Mary-Ann Shearer, who is my health guru, ‘the later you start, the healthier the digestive tract will be later in life and the less chance of allergies.”
Delaying solids gives baby greater protection from illness. Although babies continue to receive many immunities from breastmilk for as long as they nurse, the greatest immunity occurs while a baby is exclusively breastfed.
Delaying solids gives baby's digestive system time to mature. If solids are started before a baby's system is ready to handle them, they are poorly digested and may cause unpleasant reactions (digestive upset, gas, constipation, etc.).
Delaying solids decreases the risk of food allergies. It is well documented that prolonged exclusive breastfeeding results in a lower incidence of food allergies
Delaying solids helps to protect baby from iron-deficiency anaemia. The introduction of iron supplements and iron-fortified foods, particularly during the first six months, reduces the efficiency of baby's iron absorption. Healthy, full-term infants who are breastfed exclusively for periods of 6-9 months have been shown to maintain normal haemoglobin values and normal iron stores.
Delaying solids helps to protect baby from future obesity. The early introduction of solids is associated with increased body fat and weight in childhood.
Delaying solids helps mom to maintain her milk supply. Studies have shown that for a young baby, solids replace milk in a baby's diet - they do not add to baby's total intake. The more solids that baby eats, the less milk he takes from mom, and less milk taken from mom means less milk production. Babies who eat lots of solids or who start solids early tend to wean prematurely.
Delaying solids helps to space babies. Breastfeeding is most effective in preventing pregnancy when your baby is exclusively breastfed and all of his nutritional and sucking needs are satisfied at the breast.
Delaying solids makes starting solids easier. Babies who start solids later can feed themselves and are not as likely to have allergic reactions to foods.
Breastmilk is all the nutrition a baby needs for the first year, any solid food is just for fun and for learning. I believe there is such a thing as starting your baby too early on solids... and not too late!
I am definitely going to wait with my son until he shows all the signs of being ready to start solids, these are:
- Baby can sit up well without support.
- Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex and does not automatically push solids out of his mouth with his tongue.
- Baby is ready and willing to chew.
- Baby is developing a “pincer” grasp, where he picks up food or other objects between thumb and forefinger. Using the fingers and scraping the food into the palm of the hand (palmar grasp) does not substitute for pincer grasp development.
- Baby is eager to participate in meal time and may try to grab food and put it in his mouth.
Sources: kellymom.com; Healthy Kids by Mary-Ann Shearer & Charlotte Meschedes