3 reliable signs you need to watch out for
First baby. You can’t wait to get going with food! But when you’re a second or third time mum like Laura, you might be less enthusiastic. You might even wonder if you can get away without feeding the baby at all!
Whether you’re a first-time or veteran mum, your baby reaches a stage where they must learn to eat. And they need to complement the nutrition they get from milk with nutrition from other foods. Unfortunately there’s lots of unnecessary confusion, debate and misinformation about the best time to start solids. Chances are everyone from your postman to your great aunty Mary has an opinion about when you should start.
When is the right time?
There's no ONE PERFECT TIME to start solids?
That's why current recommendations say to start after (World Health Organisation) or around six months, or 26 weeks. (HSE, SACN, ESPGHAN).
But the exact timing depends on your baby. Every baby is different, so it’s about watching your baby and not the clock striking midnight on the 26th week.
For safety reasons it’s vital that you don’t offer your baby anything other than milk until 4 months (17 weeks) at the very earliest. Before this time your baby’s system is not mature enough to process anything other than milk.
Three reliable signs your baby is ready
Although many signs might indicate your baby’s ready for solids, there are three reliable signs you need to watch for.
And your baby needs to show ALL THREE at the same time, something that’s unlikely to happen much before six months.
So, before you grab the broccoli, watch your baby and see if they can:
Sit up well with minimal support.
Have you ever tried to eat while you're flopping around in your chair? It's not fun, safe or effective! Chances are your baby may unable to sit on the floor for more than a few seconds without toppling over. But they should be able to hold a stable sitting position with minimal support. Choosing the right high chair is essential also.
Hold their head steady.
It's also pretty tricky, not to mention dangerous, to eat with your chin on your chest. So make sure that your baby’s head lag has gone. Lots of tummy time can help with this.
Developed some hand-eye coordination
Is your baby reaching, grabbing and putting toys and teethers into their mouth. Hand-eye coordination is vital for self-feeding.
Have you heard of the Tongue Thrust or Extrusion Reflex?
As well as the three signs above you'll also want to check if your baby’s lost the tongue-thrust reflex. This reflex usually disappears between four and six months.
You can test it by simply offering a spoon as if you’re trying to feed. The spoon can be clean, or you may choose to add a small amount of baby cereal with breast milk or formula.
If your baby’s tongue thrusts forward and rejects the spoon, the reflex is still present.
If your baby’s mouth opens and accepts the spoon, the reflex may be fading or is already gone.
4 Common Myths to Bust
The recommendation are different for breastfed and bottle-fed babies
Regardless of whether you’re bottle feeding formula or expressed milk or feeding directly from the breast, milk provides ALL of the nutrition that your baby needs until six months of age.
Bigger babies need solids sooner
Bigger babies may drink more milk than smaller babies. But regardless of your baby’s shape, size and gender (no boys don’t need to start solids earlier than girls!) milk will provide everything that your baby needs to grow and develop until six months of age. Don’t let your mother in law tell you otherwise! Being a ‘bigger baby’ doesn’t mean that they’re developmentally ready to eat solids.
Starting solids might help your baby’s sleep
I’m a mum too and I know that sleep deprivation is a killer. When my kids were babies, I’m pretty sure if someone had promised that chanting while dangling a crystal over the baby’s head would guarantee sleep I would have jumped on it. But the bottom line is that there’s about as much evidence of the crystals helping as there is to show that starting solids will improve sleep-none! There are lots of reasons why babies wake at night, that often have nothing to do with hunger.
Early weaning helps all babies with reflux
I’ve met lots of parents who’ve been advised to start solids early because their baby had reflux and some have experienced a stressful start to their weaning journey because of it. There is NO evidence to suggest that starting solids will help your baby with reflux. However, if your baby is showing signs of readiness, they’re over 17 weeks, and you’d really like to just see if it will help, then it’s OK to give it ago. If it doesn’t improve the situation, then you can stop and start again at six months.
Now, on to choosing a first food
You’re confident your baby is showing ALL THREE signs of readiness, and you’re ready to begin your weaning journey. The next exciting decision is deciding what their first food should be.
The good news is there’s no ONE best food to start with.
(Click pic to read Carolines full post on this on instagram!)
Here are FIVE possible options:
Vilified online, it's just ground rice, not toxic at all! And what it lacks in flavour it makes up for with ease of preparation.
Babies lap up sweet-tasting fruit. So perhaps it’s a wasted opportunity as a first taste? Because babies are born with a preference for sweet flavours fruit is an easy sell at any time.
Starting with vegetables, particularly bitter greens is my favourite. And there's some (not tonnes of) evidence to show benefits of a veggie first approach. One study found improved acceptance of ALL veggies later on in those babies started on bitter greens.
Iron-rich foods like meat, fish, beans or lentils.
Iron is an essential nutrient for babies. So even if you don't start with these foods, you'll need to add them in quickly. Despite what it says in the weaning books there’s no need to go through every fruit and vegetable combo under the sun before moving on to these foods.
Potentially allergenic foods
Research now shows that it’s best not to delay the introduction of potentially allergenic foods like peanuts, eggs and milk. And you could even start your weaning journey with these if you choose to. When you do introduce these foods remember you'll need to give these on separate days to begin with. If a reaction occurs, you'll need to identify the culprit.
Regardless of how many babies you have, people-both real and virtual-will want to give you unsolicited advice about when and how to feed your baby. But armed with the correct information remember you’re the best person to make an informed choice for you and your baby. Just let the chatter go in one ear and out the other!
Caroline O’Connor is a registered dietitian, lactation consultant and founder of Solid Start. And chief feeder to four kids. She’s passionate about sharing no-nonsense, professional advice on food, feeding and nutrition. And has a special interest in weaning, fussy eating and allergies.