By Ruth Yaron
When should you start feeding your baby solid foods? The answer
is when your pediatrician tells you that it's ok to start solid
foods. She will probably agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics,
whose guidelines state that the best time to begin feeding your
baby solid foods is between 4 and 6 months of age.
And the closer to 6 months the better, especially if you are
breastfeeding. Your baby's body in its first few months was designed
to digest breast milk or something similar to it. And calorie
for calorie, no solid food has the nutritional quality of breast
milk or formula for your young baby. If you feed your baby solid
foods too early, her milk intake may decrease. You'd be replacing
milk, the best food for your baby, with foods that are nutritionally
inferior and not as digestible. Solid foods should not replace
breast milk, they should complement it.
Why wait at least four months?
Your baby is not physically ready to eat solid foods until he
is around 4 months old. Although your mother or grandmother will
strongly disagree, saying that she gave her babies solids when
they were only 2 weeks old, there are several reasons to wait
at least 4 months before starting your baby on solid foods.
Reason 1 Your baby's digestive system is too immature for solid
foods before 4 months. Although he can suck very well, he does
not have a lot of saliva to help digest food. Until he is at
least 3 to 4 months old, his system lacks certain digestive enzymes,
such as an enzyme called amylase needed for digesting cereals
(starches or complex carbohydrates). His body has trouble digesting
some fats before he is 6 months old. Some foods will pass through
him undigested and end up in his diaper. And some high-protein
foods like eggs, meat and even cow's milk, given too early, may
cause problems with your baby's immature kidneys.
Reason 2 Your baby is not developmentally ready to eat solid
foods. His throat muscles are not developed enough to swallow
solid foods until he is at least 4 months old. And it is not
until about 4 months that he is able to use his tongue to transfer
food from the front to the back of his mouth. In fact, when you
touch his tongue, he reacts by pushing his tongue outward or
forward. This response is called the extrusion reflex or the
tongue-thrust reflex and it doesn't disappear until he is around
16 to 18 weeks old. The first time you feed him with a spoon,
it may seem that he is spitting out the food and closing his
mouth at the wrong time. But his tongue movement is simply the
result of the not-yet-unlearned extrusion reflex and not because
he doesn't want the food. It is not until he is about 5 months
old that he will see the spoon coming and open his mouth in anticipation.
Reason 3 Your baby must have a way of telling you that he is
satiated. He lets you know that he is finished breast or bottle
feeding by stopping his sucking or by falling asleep. But until
he becomes able to turn his head to refuse food, which occurs
at around 4 or 5 months, he has no way of letting you know he
has had enough solid food. Because of this inability, some people
consider feeding solid foods to a too-young baby a method of
force feeding. This practice can interfere with the body's self-regulating
eating mechanism and lead to overweight later in life. As with
adults, your baby should eat only when he is hungry.
Reason 4 Beginning solid foods too early has been associated
with other problems later in life such as obesity, respiratory
problems like bronchial asthma and food allergies.
Reason 5 Solid foods will not make your baby sleep through the
night. Studies show that of all babies sleep through at 3 months
of age, whether or not they are eating solid foods. Even if solid
foods will help your baby sleep longer, that is still not a good
reason to begin solid foods early. I know sleep deprivation is
hell, and most of us have been there. Hang in there. One night
he'll sleep right through, and then you can start feeling normal
Reason 6 If you are breastfeeding and give your baby solid foods
too early, your milk production may be decreased.
Don't wait longer than 8 months
After six months, your baby begins to need solid foods for some
nutrients such as iron, vitamin C, protein, carbohydrates, zinc,
water and calories, and delaying food may cause delayed growth.
Besides playing a nutritional role, solid foods help your baby
developmentally. It is crucial that your baby start developing
eating and chewing skills between the ages of 7 to 9 months.
And if you delay the introduction of solid foods past 8 or 9
months, your baby may refuse textured foods when you finally
do offer them to her. See The
Super Baby Food Book for
more details about the timing of your baby’s first solids.
Signs of readiness for solid foods
Your pediatrician looks for certain signs of readiness in your
baby before advising you to begin solid foods. Some of these
• She is at least 4 months old.
• She weighs twice as much as her birth weight.
• She weighs at least 13-15 pounds.
• She can sit with support, allowing her to lean forward when she
wants another spoonful and backward to refuse.
• She has control over her head and neck muscles and can turn her
head to refuse food.
• She has stopped exhibiting the extrusion reflex when you put
a spoon in her mouth.
• She is drinking at least 32-40 ounces of formula per 24 hours
and still wants more.
• She is breastfeeding at least 8-10 times per 24 hours (after
the first few weeks), empties both breasts at each feeding
and still wants more.
• The time between feedings becomes shorter and shorter over a
period of several days.
• She can bring an object in her hand directly to her mouth.
• She shows interest in others eating around her.
• She becomes fussy in the middle of the night, whereas before
she slept through with no problem, or her sleep periods are
becoming shorter instead of longer.
Baby food mathematics
The signs of readiness for solid foods tend to occur around
the same time in your baby's life because of a few
simple mathematical facts about calories and your baby's
may skip the next paragraph.)
The average baby needs about 50 calories per day per
pound of body weight. Breast milk and formula provide
calories per ounce. Therefore, for every pound of body
requires about 2 ounces of milk. At 13 pounds, your
baby needs about 650 calories or about 32 ounces of
milk. So you
it's no happenstance that the signs of readiness coincide.
Which foods first?
The first foods you should feed your baby are those that
are easily digested and least likely to trigger an allergic
Opinions vary, but the most often recommended first
food is commercial iron-enriched baby rice cereal. Other
avocado, sweet potato, ripe banana and if your baby
is older, millet cereal and yogurt. You and your pediatrician
decide which food should be given to your baby at her
very first meal.
Commercial rice cereal Commercial
iron-fortified baby rice cereal is the first choice
of the American Academy
is very easily digested, is rarely an allergen and
thins readily when added to liquid. Most commercial
processed. Earth's Best brand is not — it is made from
whole brown rice and is organic. If you wish to use commercial
baby cereal, I highly recommend Earth's Best. Find it at some
supermarkets, all natural foods stores or order from some baby
product catalogs or from mail-order natural foods companies.
Store opened boxes of cereal in a cool, dry place for up to
one month. After one month, the cereal's nutrient content begins
Homemade whole grain cereals If your
baby is at least 6 months old, I recommend homemade
brown rice or millet
cereal as baby's first food. These cereals are easily
digested and have
a naturally high iron content. However, your baby must
be at least 6 months old before he has the necessary
to handle the complex carbohydrates in these cereals.
Banana Mashed ripe banana is an excellent
first food for baby. Bananas are nutritious and very
easy for your baby to digest.
Many other cultures use banana exclusively as their
first baby food. However, I have to mention that some
that the sweet taste of bananas may give your baby
a "sweet tooth" and
cause him to refuse less sweet tasting foods later. I personally
wouldn't be concerned about that. My baby started on bananas
and he now happily eats brewer's yeast! If you've ever tasted
brewer's yeast, you know what I mean. WARNING: Some
experts recommend against feeding a young baby bananas
because of the
with which they (and all other imported fruits) are
sprayed. Banana skins are porous, allowing the fungicides
to be absorbed
into the flesh. Try to buy only certified organically
Avocado Mashed ripe avocado is also
an excellent first food for baby. It is so nutritious
that some claim
humans can live
them exclusively. Avocados are also an excellent source
of the unsaturated fatty acids that your baby needs
Cooked sweet potato Cooked mashed
sweet potato is another favorite first food. It is
and rich in beta carotene
(vitamin A). This is a great first food for your 4-month-old
baby, if you don't wish to start her out on sweet bananas
or a processed baby cereal.
Yogurt Yogurt is similar tasting to
milk, and for this reason and many others, it is a
good first food
for babies who are
at least 5 or 6 months old. Whole milk yogurt is recommended
your baby needs fats. Baby yogurt, of course, should
be of the plain variety. Don't buy the yogurt with
added — or
worse yet, the yogurt that has artificial sweetener. It is
important to note that although yogurt may be given to a baby
1 year old, cow's milk should not. If allergies to milk run
in your family, you shouldn't feed your baby yogurt. Talk to
See The Super Baby Food Book for more suggestions
about good choices for your baby’s
Solids” are not!
The term "solid" is a misnomer — to eat foods
that are actually solid, your baby would need a good set of
teeth, which she won't have for quite some time. Your baby's
after breast milk or formula, should be more liquid than solid.
In fact, it should be so liquid that it pours. To get this
very thin consistency, the first food should be mixed with a
proportion of breast milk, formula or water.
You may be surprised at how little food you should give your
baby at her first meal: no more than a teaspoon or
two. The amount that she will eat at any meal depends on
her age and
how much liquid she is drinking.
© Ruth Yaron; excerpted from Super
Baby Food by Ruth Yaron
Ruth Yaron is the author of Super
Baby Food. The book is a compilation of the knowledge Ruth
acquired as she searched for an economical, nutritionally superior
diet to nurture her premature twins. To learn more, visit SuperBabyFood.com