When to Start a Baby
on Solid Food?
We could almost bet that parents with a baby between 4-6 months asked Google or their friends or family the question: When Can My Baby Start Eating Solid Foods?!
A wise friend once told me when I announced I was pregnant: “Welcome to the next 21 years of your life where everything you do and say will be judged by every person you meet”. I laughed, but oh little did I know how right she was! And when it comes to solid food introduction, it’s no different.
“4 months old?? Baby is wayyy too young!” “6 months old? Why did you wait so long?” “Wait, your baby is 7 months old and you haven’t started, what are you waiting for exactly?”
Here’s the thing, baby has been drinking milk since he was born and you’ve JUST mastered the art of breastfeeding, now it’s already time to think about what’s next? Ooof!
Ok, let’s be honest, you HAVE been thinking about it, dreaming about these moments to come, eating as a family, your baby happily munching on broccoli… but how do you get there? Should you listen to Aunt T’s advice? Or the Instagram post you saw of an influencer feeding her child. How old was that baby again? 5, 6 months old?
Let’s back up for a minute and look at what the experts have to say…
What the experts have to say about solid food introduction:
Until recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that complementary foods be introduced between 4 and 6 months. In 2002, they updated these guidelines to 6 months. Then a lot of organizations aligned their recommendations to match WHO’s guidelines. Today, recommendations can vary from one country to another; and even more confusingly, from one expert to another.
Here’s what I usually l recommend:
As much as you can, try to stick to the official recommendations
A study conducted by the CDC showed that 40% of parents in the USA introduce complementary food before their baby is 4 months old. and 9% of them, before they are 4 weeks old. Reasons include “My baby was old enough to begin eating solid food”; “my baby wanted the food I ate”; “it would help my baby sleep longer at night”.
Even if you feel that your baby is not gaining enough weight, seems hungry or has trouble sleeping, remember that prior to 6 months, breastmilk or formula is more than sufficient to fulfill your baby’s nutritional needs and there is absolutely no good evidence that solid food will make them sleep longer or make them cry less. Lots of experts and researchers have worked on getting the most accurate and updated recommendations and there is no reason that these guidelines differ from one baby to another. But of course if you have any doubts about your child’s development, alway check with the pediatrician who will be able to advise and guide you.
But most importantly, follow your baby’s cues – this will matter more than what you (or your MIL) want
We know that in reality, there is excitement, curiosity, and a little bit of impatience. More so with a first child. And all first time parents know the feeling, myself included. Your baby seems ready way before 6 months old. But really what will matter is not so much when YOU think is the right time, but mostly when your baby thinks it is time. Which is why you’ll need to pay attention to the…🥁… signs of readiness!
These signs are a very good way to check if your baby is ready, in particular if you plan to start with baby-led weaning (BLW) (see our guide on choosing a method) . And actually, even if your baby is already 6 months old but you want to choose BLW, I strongly encourage you to check that all these signs are met. That’s how important they are. So let’s deep dive:
* Bébé can sit up well with little or no support
Even if your baby is not 100% ready to sit by themselves, but they can do so with a little bit of support for a certain amount of time (a whole mealtime, maybe?) then it’s a good indication that they are ready to enjoy a meal.
* Bébé is able to turn their head
Which will be a good indicator when they have had enough to eat. This is important for your baby to be able to participate during mealtimes and communicate when they are done.
* Bébé loses tongue-thrust reflex
OK this one is a bit more technical so bear with me. Babies are born with a reflex which helps them latch, either on the breast or bottle nipple and allows them to stick their tongue out of their mouth. It also acts as a defense system against choking because if you were to try to put something other than the breast or bottle nipple in your baby’s mouth, then their tongue would push it away. Pretty amazing right?
What’s even more amazing is that this reflex will gradually go away between 4 and 6 months which will be a good indicator that your baby is becoming ready to start solids.
How can you test? Try to put a baby spoon on your baby’s tongue or inside their mouth. If they take the tongue out just like they would do for milk, then the reflex is still there. If they close their mouth on the spoon, then you’re good to go!
* Bébé is acquiring a “pincer grasp”
Which means that your baby is starting to pick things up with their thumb and forefinger instead of using their whole hand. This is particularly helpful if you want your baby to get started with a baby-led weaning method. But most likely, they won’t be experts at this until a few months after solid food introduction so don’t worry too much.
* Bébé is ready to chew, seems to want to participate during mealtime
Does your baby show interest in the food you’re eating or try to grab it and put it into their mouth? While this is a good sign, and an easy one to recognize, it’s important to ensure that the other signs have been met as this one alone doesn’t necessarily mean that your baby is ready.
Never force a baby to eat when they don’t want to
The introduction needs to be a smooth and enjoyable experience for both parents and baby. Don’t force your baby if they don’t want to eat what you offer. And remember that at the very beginning we are talking about a few spoons of food. At this stage, it is more about the experience than the nutrients. While it might be normal that your baby refuses food because it is a new texture, gesture, taste… make sure to check in with a healthcare provider if this refusal lasts a long way past the 6-month milestone, because we don’t want to delay the introduction too much.
To make it easy, here’s a little checklist to getting bébé started on solids!
- Your baby is around 6 months and meets all the signs of readiness, let’s go!
- When your schedule allows, include baby at the table during mealtime. It’s very stimulating for them to see others eating. For us, we do that during the weekend and match our mealtime to our baby’s mealtime!
- Sit your baby comfortably on a high chair.
- When starting solid food, offer it in between milk feedings and avoid offering it when a baby is very hungry, this might end up in a frustrated baby, or complete refusal of food.
- If you’re on BLW, keep in mind that gagging or even coughing and throwing up will most likely happen at the table. It can be very scary but this is normal and will help your baby learn to manage the size and shape of food that’s safe to eat. Keep calm and let them manage. Gagging acts as a defense mechanism, contracting the back of the throat to protect babies from choking, and pushing the food forward on the tongue. See our guide on safety to learn everything about the difference between gagging and choking.
- Remember that the beginning is all about exploration. Maybe your baby won’t eat anything and that’s totally fine. Breastmilk or formula is all they need to nourish themselves and the introduction of solid foods is not to replace it, at least not too quickly, but more to cultivate their curiosity and develop taste and interest in a wide variety of food.
That’s it! You’re all set. Still got questions? Well of course. Pop them into our inbox!
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“When to Start a Baby on Solid Food”