When should my baby start solids?
Human milk is the only food that healthy, full-term babies need for about the first six months of life. The composition of human milk varies according to the time of day and the age of the baby, so that each mother provides the milk that meets her own baby's unique needs. Human milk provides immunity factors for as long as the baby nurses, and many of the health benefits of breastfeeding continue well into childhood and beyond.
Most solid foods are lower in calories than human milk, of lower nutritional value, and can be difficult for young babies to digest. Introduced early, they can cause unpleasant reactions and even trigger allergies. These problems can be avoided by waiting until your baby is ready for solids. Some parents have found introducing solids before baby is ready to be a waste of time, energy and money.
Breastfed babies do not need to have complementary food introduced until about the middle of the first year. Before that time, you will notice some signs that your baby is changing developmentally, in preparation for beginning solids in a few months. You will notice that:
- he becomes more sociable, playing and holding "conversations" with you during a nursing session
- he has a growth spurt and nurses more frequently for a while
- he imitates the chewing motions you make whilst eating -- he is practicing!
You will know that he is really ready to start solids when:
- he is about six months old
- he can sit up without any support
- he continues to be hungry despite more frequent nursing which is unrelated to illness or teething
- he has lost the tongue-thrusting reflex and does not push solids out of his mouth
- he can pick up things with his finger and thumb (pincer grasp)
Babies who are ready for solids can usually feed themselves. Mothers often report that they knew their babies were ready when they picked up food from a plate, chewed it, swallowed it, and wanted more.
Listen to your baby! Babies with a tendency to allergies may refuse solids until later in their first year. As long as they are growing well and are happy and healthy, there is no need for concern.
The American Academy of Pediatrics:
- "Pediatricians and parents should be aware that exclusive breastfeeding is sufficient to support optimal growth and development for approximately the first 6 months of life and provides continuing protection against diarrhea and respiratory tract infection. Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child."
- "Introduction of complementary feedings before 6 months of age generally does not increase total caloric intake or rate of growth and only substitutes foods that lack the protective components of human milk. During the first 6 months of age, even in hot climates, water and juice are unnecessary for breastfed infants and may introduce contaminants or allergens."
- "All breastfed infants should receive 200 IU of oral vitamin D drops daily beginning during the first 2 months of life and continuing until the daily consumption of vitamin D-fortified formula or milk is 500 mL. Although human milk contains small amounts of vitamin D, it is not enough to prevent rickets. Exposure of the skin to ultraviolet B wavelengths from sunlight is the usual mechanism for production of vitamin D. However, significant risk of sunburn (short-term) and skin cancer (long-term) attributable to sunlight exposure, especially in younger children, makes it prudent to counsel against exposure to sunlight. Furthermore, sunscreen decreases vitamin D production in skin."
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- What are the benefits of breastfeeding my baby?
THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, published by La Leche League International, is the most complete resource available for the breastfeeding mother. It is available through your local Leader or from the LLLI Online Store.
Our FAQs present information from La Leche League International on topics of interest to parents of breastfed children. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise. If you have a serious breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader. Please consult health care professionals on any medical issue, as La Leche League Leaders are not medical practitioners.