by Anya Dunham, PhD
Is your baby ready for solids? Here are 4 signs to look for.
Your baby is about to join you at the dinner table – what an exciting milestone!.. Are you wondering if the timing is right? Let’s see what science can tell us about readiness for solids.
You might have heard that “Food before one is just for fun.” This adage is used with good intentions — to promote longer breastfeeding and to reassure parents — but it is not entirely true.
The advice on when to introduce solid foods varies across countries, but generally falls somewhere between 4 and 6 months. At the time I write this, the World Health Organization recommends that “infants start receiving complementary foods at 6 months of age in addition to breast milk.” This is because from about 6 months on, breastmilk is no longer enough as the only source of some of the essential nutrients, especially iron: by this age babies deplete the iron stores they had at birth while their needs for iron remain very high.1
So, the recommended range for introducing complementary foods, or solids, is between 4 and 6 months. But it is also important to be mindful of the differences between babies: some are ready for solids earlier and others need a bit of extra time.
From a gross motor and oral motor development perspective, main signs of readiness are the ability to sit upright and the disappearance of the tongue-thrust reflex.2 It’s also important to consider babies’ interest in table foods and their ability to communicate being hungry or full. Healthy, full-term babies develop motor skills and mealtime communication abilities at different times. Take a look at these 7 common milestones:2,3
See how wide the ranges are for each milestone? One healthy 6-month-old baby may demonstrate all of these abilities, while another may not yet show any of them. Yet, both babies would be within normal range!
As you prepare to introduce solid foods, consider not only how old your baby is, but also where she is developmentally: is she ready to play an active part in eating?
Your baby will likely be ready for solid foods sometime between 4 and 6 months when she can:4
If your baby is younger than 6 months, healthy, and growing well, but not yet showing these signs, wait and keep observing. He’s developing incredibly fast and there’s a good chance he’ll be ready as soon as next week.
Waking up more frequently at night is not, on its own, a sign that your baby needs solid food. (Read more about this and 9 other surprising baby facts.) Around 4 months, most babies begin waking more because of the changes in their sleep structure. Introducing solids does not help babies sleep better: babies fed solids are less likely to feed at night, but just as likely to wake up.5 Do your best to keep your baby well-rested and wait until she’s ready for solids.
What if your baby is showing signs of readiness, but doesn’t have any teeth yet? You’re good to go: she will be gumming, not chewing, her first foods anyway.