Introducing Solid Foods
When your baby is ready to start solid foods, you can set up an area for feeding her, taking the ambiance for presenting and serving food into consideration. These factors create a pleasant, balancing atmosphere in which your baby can learn to appreciate food and have a healthy appetite.
Signs Your Baby Is Ready to Eat Solid Food
When your baby sits without assistance, holds her head up with confidence, and grasps small objects and brings them to her mouth, she may be ready to eat solid foods. At this point, she will probably have roughly doubled her birth weight, and will either nurse or take a bottle more frequently, because she is hungrier and less satisfied with breast milk or formula. Her nursing patterns may increase to eight to ten times a day, with shorter intervals of time between feedings. If your baby is formula-feeding, she may drink more than 32 ounces of milk a day, and her sleep cycles may also be shorter due to hunger. Other signs to look for are more subtle:
- she watches you eat and shows an interest in table food
- she makes chewing motions with her mouth
- she reaches out to grab your food as you eat
Depending on appetite, some babies are more eager for first foods than others, so this phase may be an easy time, or it may require extra patience. Cutting teeth is also a significant sign that she is ready to start solid foods.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies start eating solid foods at around six months, because breast milk supplies the best nutrients until then. Around the age of six months, your baby’s body starts producing the enzyme amylase, which shows that her digestive system is maturing and how she can now digest new “solid” foods. Her nervous system development helps her recognize a spoon in her mouth, and helps her coordinate swallowing; she knows whether she is full or hungry; her sucking pattern has developed to the point that her tongue can make a thrusting motion that will allow her to push food out of her mouth to protect her from choking; and her taste buds have also developed.
Every baby is an individual with unique needs that include her original constitution and condition, her size, sex, the climate and location where she lives, and various situations that contribute to making her who she is. Therefore, the time to eat only solid foods can vary from child to child. If there are reasons that you feel strongly that your baby is ready to eat earlier than six months, then at least wait until she is four months old to start solids. If your child’s digestion is not mature enough to digest food, she will have some signs of indigestion such as colic, gas, constipation, or loose stools.
According to Jay L. Hoecker, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, starting solid foods early (before four months) may increase her chances of obesity. Keep in touch with your health care provider as your baby goes through the transition of eating solid food, so that you can customize a program that fits her individual needs.
For her first few months, your baby has a normal response to push her tongue outward when it is touched or depressed. This is part of sucking and is called the extrusion reflex. While she has the extrusion reflex, she cannot take food from a spoon, because she cannot pass food to the back of her mouth for swallowing. At around four to six months, the extrusion reflex will be gone and she can eat solids, without pushing the food away. Breast-feeding or drinking from a bottle uses a sucking motion, but eating solid food requires learning new skills, such as swallowing.
At about eight months, your baby can make chewing movements so that she can accept lumpier foods that have more texture. As she begins to eat thicker foods, she may naturally “gag” if food catches at the back of her throat, if she eats too much food that is too thick or lumpy, or if she eats too fast. The reflex happens when her throat or back of her mouth is stimulated, and it helps prevent choking. Do not leave her alone while she is eating food, in case she chokes. As she gets older, eating only smooth purees can make it difficult for her to learn to chew, which is a downside of many packaged baby foods that come in only one consistency. Introducing lumpy textures at this age helps your baby learn the chewing process, which is part of her teeth and jaw development.