My son Elijah is almost eight months old. He’s never had anything to eat but breastmilk. He is healthy and happy. I feel good about our decision so far to delay solids, but I know that soon milk won’t be enough.
The question is, how soon?
What Does The Bible Say?
I looked up the words “milk,” “baby,” “suckling,” “breast,” “nurse,” and “child” in the Bible using Bible Gateway, along with variations of those words (babies, sucklings, etc.). I found a lot of references to nursing and weaning- a surprising amount, actually. Nursing is mentioned all throughout the Bible, literally and symbolically.
However, since none of the verses that I found give any specific direction on when to start feeding a baby solid foods, I will save a discussion of those verses for another time. No rabbit-chasing today!
What Do Other Sources Say?
Delay Solids For At Least Six Months
KellyMom lists many reasons that support delaying solids to at least six months. Delaying solids:
- Gives babies better protection from illness.
- Gives baby’s digestive system time to mature.
- Decreases the risk of food allergies.
- Helps to protect baby from iron-deficiency anemia.
- Helps to protect baby from future obesity.
- Helps Mom maintain her milk supply.
- Helps to space out babies.
- Makes starting solids easier.
Before six months of age, a baby’s digestive system is not ready for solid foods. And according to this article by Momtastic, some babies’ gastrointestinal tracts may not be developed enough to handle solid food until between six and eight months of age.
Some parents believe that their baby is ready before the six-month mark, but I would definitely suggest waiting until at least six months, to be on the safe side.
Watch Your Baby, Not the Calendar
According to BabyCenter, there are some signs that show when your baby is (I would say, might be) ready for solids:
- Baby can hold his head in a steady, upright position.
- Baby will lose the “tongue-thrust” reflex. This reflex causes him to push food out of his mouth.
- Baby can sit up well.
- Baby makes chewing motions and may have less drool because his swallowing ability is improving.
- Baby has gained significant weight (doubled his birth weight) and weighs at least fifteen pounds.
- Baby seems to be hungry even after 8-10 nursing sessions per day.
- Baby is curious about what you’re eating and tries to grab it himself. (Side note: Elijah has been curious about food since he was about four months old, so I don’t agree with this one.)
These signs are good general guidelines to look for. Something to keep in mind, though, is that just because a baby is showing the outward signs of readiness does not necessarily mean that his insides are ready.
Elijah has been showing most of these readiness signs for a few weeks now. He holds his head up, can sit up well (although he will topple over after a few minutes if you don’t catch him), and he tries to grab everything, food or not, within arm’s reach. But we haven’t started him on solids. Not just yet…
Consider Delaying Solids Beyond Six Months
Delaying solids until at least six months of age is, to me, a must. But after that, the gray area begins. There isn’t a “perfect” day or month to start solids for everyone. It really depends on your baby.
Will Delaying Solids Beyond Six Months Cause My Baby To Be Nutritionally Deficient?
One potential issue with delaying solids beyond six months is that at around the six-month mark, baby’s iron and zinc levels begin to deplete. Breastmilk may not be sufficient to keep baby’s nutrient levels optimal after this point.
However, for full-term healthy babies (especially if they are breastfed), this is not a concern. “The original iron stores of a full-term healthy baby, combined with the better-absorbed iron in breastmilk, are usually enough to keep baby’s hemoglobin levels within the normal range well into the second six months.” (emphasis mine) (Source)
Consider this study:
“Healthy, full-term infants who are breastfed exclusively for periods of 6-9 months have been shown to maintain normal hemoglobin values and normal iron stores. In one of these studies, done by Pisacane in 1995, the researchers concluded that babies who were exclusively breastfed for 7 months (and were not give iron supplements or iron-fortified cereals) had significantly higher hemoglobin levels at one year than breastfed babies who received solid foods earlier than seven months. The researchers found no cases of anemia within the first year in babies breastfed exclusively for seven months and concluded that breastfeeding exclusively for seven months reduces the risk of anemia.” (emphasis mine) (Source)
But what if your baby was not born full-term or has some health issues? A baby is more at risk for iron-deficiency if
- He is born prematurely. Babies get most of their iron stores from their mother during the last trimester of pregnancy.
- His birth weight is less than about 6.5 pounds (whether term or premature). Small babies tend to have reduced iron stores at birth and appear to need extra iron at an earlier age.
- He is born to a mother with poorly controlled diabetes.
- He is fed cow’s milk (instead of breastmilk or iron-fortified formula) during his first year of life.
What if you are iron deficient during pregnancy? Could you pass that on to your otherwise healthy baby?
Good news! Medical studies do not show this to be a problem. Studies show that babies born to anemic mothers are no more likely to be iron deficient than those born to mothers with healthy iron levels.
Will Delaying Solids Beyond Six months Cause My Baby To Miss His “Window of Opportunity?”
Another potential problem with delaying solids beyond the six-month mark is that it may cause baby to miss the “window of opportunity” and reject the texture of new foods.
According to an article by Juniper Russo, delaying solid foods can cause babies to reject certain foods later on, because they don’t get used to eating a variety of foods in their first year of life. As they grow into toddlerhood, they might continue to refuse solids and possibly run a risk of malnutrition and calorie deficiency.
This worried me (slightly). I mean, who wants their baby to be a malnourished nurse-aholic?
Thankfully, further study doesn’t bear out this assertion.
According to KellyMom in this article, the idea that babies have a limited window of opportunity for starting solids is not supported by research. She writes:
“Occasionally, parents will be told that baby must start solids by 6 months (or 8 months, or 10 months) or baby will have problems learning to accept and eat foods that require chewing. This “limited window of opportunity” idea is widely believed, but unproven.
I’ve not been able to find any research data to support the idea that there is a limited window of opportunity for introducing solids in normally developing, healthy children.”
There is some evidence that for children with significant mental and/or physical delays, waiting too long to introduce solid foods may cause them to reject certain foods later on.
But for most children, this is not a concern. Delaying solids past six months will not cause your toddler to reject foods when they are older.
To Delay or Not To Delay, That Is the Question
Or is it? Maybe you’ve already made up your mind. Maybe you’re still a little unsure of what to do.
The important thing is to not get in a hurry. Solids can wait. So many moms feel pressured by well-meaning relatives and friends to start feeding their baby solid foods before he’s really ready.
But there is no rush, so don’t feel pressured to start solids early. There’s no rule that says a baby has to start solids right at six months (even if Aunt Franny says so). Just say no!
There is rarely any harm (and lots of good!) in waiting a little longer if that’s what you want to do and your baby is happy and growing well. For a healthy baby, introducing solids sometime between seven months to a year is fine. Whenever you and your baby are ready, grab your camera and go for it!
In this article by Momtastic, she writes:
“Remember that “real food” is breast milk and/or formula and these contain all the important nutrients that an infant needs to develop properly. Breast milk in particular, and/or formula, will be enough to sustain your baby’s nutritional needs for up to age 1 year old. In fact, introducing solids too early may displace the important nutrition your baby needs to receive from breast milk and/or formula.”
Remember, every baby is different. Every mom is different. Every situation is different.
Make the best decision that you can with the knowledge that you have, and then be at peace. You are a wonderful mother, and you are raising an incredible baby.
When will you (or when did you) start your baby on solid food? How did it go? Will/Did you do anything differently with another child? Let me know below!