A lot of women, especially first time mothers, are eager to introduce solid foods to their babies. It’s another first, a new experience to remember together. It is so cute when they take those first few bites from the little baby spoon, letting pureed peaches dribble down their chins just a bit. Some people do it because it seems like their babies aren’t getting enough out of formula or breastmilk. If they were, they wouldn’t be so hungry all of the time, right? It’s also convenient to have something other than liquid to offer a crying child, and maybe it will help them develope independance. After all, your mom constantly reminds you that you started eating baby food at a month old and were off formula by six months!
The truth is that babies need nothing but formula or breastmilk for the first six months of life. Frequent freedings are just a part of parenting a newborn. Feeding them solids won’t make them less hungry or help them sleep through the night. It can actually make them very sick, because the intestinal tract is not completely developed until a baby is six months old. They simply are not internally ready to digest anything other than formula and breastmilk, even if they manage to swallow. Showing an interest in food doesn’t necessarily mean their stomachs are ready. Not every interest is healthy. Would you let your baby have candy for every meal because he was interested, knowing it wasn’t the best food for him?
The WHO, Unicef, the US Department of Health & Human Services, the AAP, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Dietetic Association, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, and Health Canada all recommend that babies not be given solids until they are six months of age. As Dr. Jim Sears said on the Dr. Phil show, “”The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that no foods are given before 6 months. And that’s very, very important. Many of the books out there still say the old recommendations 4 to 6 months. Now it’s nothing before 6 months.” Those old numbers are outdated; six months is the new guideline.
Dr. Jim Sears went on to say, on Friday, January 19, “Now why? It’s very important. We’ve learned that the baby’s intestines just are not ready to handle all these other foods, anything other than milk, OK? And starting them sooner can lead to food allergies or even more severe intestinal problems.”
A baby’s digestive system is not ready to handle solids until six months of age. Starting solids before then will result in poor digestion and negative reactions, such as an upset stomach, gas, diarrhea, or constipation. Gastric acid and pepsin, needed to digest protein, don’t near adult values until a baby is several months old. Amylase, a pancreatic enzyme that digests starches, is not abundant enough until six months. Moreover, carbohydate enzymes are not at adult levels until a baby is 7 months old. Babies are unprepared for proper fat digestion until as late as 9 months, due to low levels of lipase and bile salts. It may be better to wait to introduce solids between 7-9 months, and it is certainly not healthy to introduce them when a child is only three or four months old.
Beginning solids early also increases risk of food allergies. Our bodies have a filtering system that keeps hazardous substances from being absorbed into the bloodstream. At six months of age, our intestines produce a protein immunoglobulin that coats our intestinal walls for this purpose. This process is called closure. In the early months, allergens can be easily absorbed into the bloodstream, causing our bodies to produce antibodies against them. Solids shouldn’t be introduced until after the baby’s gut has closed, especially if food allergies run in the family.
All of the nutrients and calories a baby needs is in the formula and breastmilk. Supplementing with solid food usually means eliminating a milk meal, which denies your child those nutrients. Formula and breastmilk are loaded with tons more than pureed baby foods, so this can deprive them of what they need to grow and develope in the most healthy way. Babies do not absorb nutrients from solids as well as liquids in the early months, which can also contribute to babies not getting enough out of their meals. Iron-fortified foods decrease the efficiency of a baby’s iron absorption, which can cause anemia.
If you feed them milk in addition to a solid meal, you’re at risk of overfeeding. Younger babies usually cannot signal when they are full by turning away or showing disinterest; they do not develope that ability until they are a little older. This can cause you to teach a baby to ignore the signs of fullness and contribute to overeating later in life. Studies have shown that starting solids early is associated with a higher weight in childhood and more body fat.
Many babies cannot properly swallow before they are six months old, which can cause choking. Younger infants have a tongue-thrust reflex that protects the baby against choking. They automatically rejected anything solid by pushing it out with their tongues until the reflect disappears. Younger babies are also not very good at chewing, being that many do not even have teeth until later in their first year of life. They begin producing a lot more saliva around this time, which will break down their solid foods and is another reason to delay the introduction of solids. This is about the time that most babies learn to sit up as well, another reason it is the prime age at which to introduce solids. Starting solids sooner also deprives baby of the physical closeness they crave that they get during milk feeding sessions, when they are held.
There are some foods that should not be given until a year. The list includes cow milk, honey, and egg whites. There is not enough iron in cow milk, which can contribute to anemia. Moreover, babies that are fed cow milk early can develope an allergy to it that can cause problems ranging from a runny nose to a rash to even ear infections. Introducing egg whites before a year increases risk of allergy to eggs. Honey contains bacteria that can be harmful to a baby as well.
Dr. Sears went on to advise parents about how to start solids, “Traditionally, the first food is rice cereal. We used to always tell our patients that. But look at what rice cereal is: it’s all carbs! Americans are carboholics already, and that’s probably where it starts. So we really should start with fruits and vegetables. Mashed bananas are a great first food. Avocado is another great first food. It’s very high in the healthy fats that the babies’ brains need.” Rice cereal is actually not the best first food, because as we just learned, a baby doesn’t have enough carbohydrate enzymes to properly handle the high-carb content of rice cereal until 7 months. The sources of this article include several guides to solid introduction.
Your baby will let you know when she is ready for solids. When she can sit up on her own, show signs that she is hungry, has teeth or has begun teething, shows an interest in your food, and does not push solids out with her tongue, then she is ready to start. Don’t rush into it too soon, as there are absolutely no benefits to starting solids early. Delaying solids can help give your child a much better start to life that will benefit her throughout her many years on this Earth–especially if you breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. There is no need to be in a hurry. Enjoy the bonding that comes through the closeness of bottle or breastfeeding time. Solids can wait.
Dr. Vincent Iannelli, “http://www.keepkidshealthy.com/infant/startingsolids.html” Keep Kids Healthy. URL: http://www.keepkidshealthy.com/infant/startingsolids.html
The Doctors Sears, “STARTING SOLID FOODS” Ask Dr. Sears. URL: http://www.askdrsears.com/html/3/T032000.asp
Kelly Bonyata, “Why Delay Solids?” Kellymom. URL: http://www.kellymom.com/nutrition/solids/delay-solids.html
Dr. William Sears, “Cows’ Milk for Babies?” Ask Dr Sears. URL: http://www.parenting.com/parenting/baby/article/0,19840,768804,00.htm