At about six months old, my daughter grew increasingly fascinated with what I ate. She was a breastfeeding champ, but still, her eyes would follow my fork as it made its way to my mouth at each meal. One day, tired of being merely a spectator, she reached out hungrily for my plate, trying hard to grab whatever she could get her little hands on.
If your babe is doing the same, it is one of the signs she may be ready for solids. But what if your child is younger? The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) suggests waiting until a baby is six months old before introducing simple solids. However, says Dr. Henry Ukpeh, a pediatrician in Trail, B.C., and CPS spokesperson, that number is not written in stone.
four or six months?
Annabel Karmel, the bestselling author of Starting Solids (DK Books), says it’s not uncommon for parents to feel confused about when to start their baby on solids based on advice from their doctor and other moms. “There is no right age,” she says. “Stick with the guidelines if it makes you more comfortable, but if you feel your baby wants solids earlier, don’t worry. You’re not doing her any harm.”
Dr. Ukpeh agrees. “Some people argue for four months, some for six, but it is anytime in between,” he says. “The four-to-six- months window also recognizes children are different — some may be ready, some may not be.”
However, both advise against starting earlier than four months. Physiologically, babies cannot handle solids before 17 weeks because of their immature digestive and immune systems, explains Karmel. Plus, before six months there may be no need to rush the mush if your baby is happily breastfeeding or bottle-feeding and is showing no interest in solids, says Dr. Ukpeh. “Breast milk is a complete meal.” At six months, however, your baby will need the added nutrition, tastes and textures of solid foods as well as breast milk or formula until she is 12 months old.
looking for signs
Tami Colville of Toronto says she didn’t feel pressured to start solids with son Milo, now 15 months, but noticed as he became more active past his six month, he got hungrier. “He started grabbing my food and especially things his older sister Ella was eating.”
Other indicators your baby might be ready include: She seems hungry for each feeding earlier than usual or still hungry after feedings; She can sit up without support, and has good control of her neck muscles; She holds food in her mouth without pushing it out on her tongue right away; She lets you know she doesn’t want food by leaning back or turning her head away.
There is some belief that children may develop food allergies if they are introduced to solids earlier, but it is usually only a concern if you have a family history of seasonal and food allergies, says Dr. Ukpeh.
Karmel advises parents not to withhold certain solids from babies — unless your baby shows signs of eczema, which may indicate a food allergy. “Withholding is not the right thing to do. Talk to allergy specialists and they’ll say to give these foods (egg, fish, meat), and give them early. If your child is allergic to them, you’ll know. By delaying giving them, it won’t make the slightest bit of difference if your child is going to have an allergy or not. You might as well find out right away.”
Dr. Ukpeh suggests spacing out the introduction of new foods to every few days so, if your child does have an allergic reaction, “you’ll know what they’re reacting to.”
CF’s senior editor Robin Stevenson’s daughter, Charlotte, was a great eater as an infant. Now, at age six, not so much.
The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends parents start with foods that contain iron, which babies need for development. Good sources are single-grain, iron-fortified infant cer-eal such as rice or barley. Great first fruits and vegetables, says Annabel Karmel, are apple, banana, pear, avocado, sweet potato, butternut squash and steamed carrots. Then you can move on to meat, poultry, cooked egg yolk and well-cooked legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas).