Just when should you start your baby on foods? The timeline for starting solids has become a topic for debate over the last few years, but there is a clear answer and recommendation!
And just to get this out of the way, when I say starting solid foods, I'm not simply referring to table foods or a baby led weaning style of eating. I'm referring to anything that isn't breast milk or formula.
Many parents seem to thing that these recommendations for when to start your baby on foods go for finger foods but not pureed foods. That is not the case, though! We want to follow these guidelines regardless of what food your are feeding your baby. If you plan to feed purees or finger foods, it's important that you know the signs to look for before you start your baby on any kind of food.
When should you start your baby on food?
Well, it Depends...
Unfortunately for parents everywhere, the recommendations for when you should start your baby on foods depends on who you ask. It couldn’t be straightforward, could it?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting at about 6 months of age. Other sources, including many pediatricians I’ve heard of, recommend starting at 4 months. Recommendations over the years have changed, but usually lie within the 4-6 month mark.
Why the difference?
There are a few things that different groups are looking at when they make recommendations. These include how ready is your baby’s gut, what is their developmental ability, risks of food allergy development, and are there any nutrients your baby needs at a certain time. And some aren't even really looking at these as much as what has been done in the past! (Yes, this goes for many of the pediatricians who recommend starting at 4 months, unfortunately!)
OK, so what do we do?
First, know that the research is pretty clear, and we definitely do not want to start solids before 4 months. There may be debate by some around whether it should be 4 or 6 months, but everyone is on board with not starting before 4 months.
I recommend starting solids based on your baby’s developmental markers that show readiness to start solid foods. This is generally the same recommendation as the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is based on looking at all the different recommendations as well as the reasoning behind them. Every baby is different, and this also takes into account your baby and not just the average baby. These developmental markers are unlikely to be present until around 6 months, but again, every baby is different.
My baby isn't sitting up at 6 months!
If by chance the developmental markers, like sitting up, aren’t there by 6 months, that’s ok! Continue watching closely for them to be present, and start when they are.
If this is your situation, it would be a good idea to consult your pediatrician or a dietitian to inquire about your baby's iron levels. Iron is one of the main nutrients health professionals watch out for when your baby starts to get to the 6-month mark. It is by no means a reason to rush into eating before your baby is ready, though.
What about introducing foods to prevent food allergies?
The only real caveat to the introduction timeline is if you have a history of food allergies in your immediate family. In that case the latest research recommends potentially starting allergen containing foods closer to the 4-month mark. Make sure you talk with your pediatrician or dietitian about timeline and your family history first, though!
The number one thing I can say is do not be in a hurry to start your baby on foods. They have a lifetime of eating ahead of them. Ensuring that they are ready and able to appropriately accept foods can help make their relationship with foods throughout their whole life a good one. And might even help prevent issues with texture aversion and picky eating down the line!
What are the markers to watch for?
- Can remain in a seated position unassisted for a few seconds when placed there (this is the number one thing to watch and wait for!!!)
- Tongue no longer extrudes (in other words, your baby doesn’t thrust their tongue out when something comes towards their mouth)
- Has an interest in your food
- Puts toys and other things in their mouth
- Has some hand control to get things where they want them to go
These markers take into account social readiness as well as physical. Both are equally important for their lifetime eating habits as well as peace around your family table. Feeding a baby that’s too young can result in a struggle and make meal times trying. That’s no fun for anyone involved. By following a few guidelines, feeding your baby really can be an amazing, rewarding, and fun time for the whole family!
Got it. What’s Next?
Once your baby is showing all the signs that they are ready for solid food, its time to pick their first foods!
Want to jump right into feeding?
Grab the Starting Solids course!
Learn what you need to know about starting your baby on solid foods, from how to serve them balanced plates to how to set up a positive mealtime environment. No arbitrary rules or judgements, here! Just guidance and tips that will help you feel confident in how you feed your baby!