Researchers in the UK are making waves today with a study which showed early introduction to solids at 3 months resulted in slightly better sleep for babies and improved quality of life for parents, compared to those who were not introduced solids till 6 months. You can check out the actual research here
So the arguments about when to best introduce solids resurfaces, and there have been other challenges, mainly related to allergy and immunological health. Looks like UK are currently reviewing their guidelines, will we follow suit? Seems like introducing solids- when to/ how best to is such an emotive issue for so many. As parents we want to get this right. So what are my thoughts?
First of all, whatever the age solids are introduced, breastfeeding should continue as an extremely important nutrient source (and with a wide range of other benefits), for AT LEAST 12 months but hopefully even a little longer. If you can not breastfeed then this should be a commercial baby formula, with regular cows milk not introduced as a drink, till after 12 months.
The current guidelines in Australia (and what I like to go by) say to introduce solids AROUND 6 months BUT NOT before 4 months. This gives people a little wiggle room to start somewhere between 4-6 months, when their baby is showing signs of readiness, rather than starting on a specific but somewhat arbitrary date. (In contrast the UK has greater emphasis on exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months no matter the child’s readiness, which is maybe a clue to why there is research challenging this wisdom coming out of the UK).
Those signs of readiness for solids include
– Being able to sit relatively unaided with very good head and neck control
– Loss of the tongue-thrust reflex that pushes food back out
– Trying to reach out and grab food.
– Opening mouth when offered food on a spoon
– Ability to adequately chew and swallow puree solids
NOT before 4 months is an important part of our guideline. It is generally accepted in professional bodies across europe, UK, USA and Australia, that the babies gut, immune system, kidney and ability to chew and swallow are not adequately developed to cope with solid food before this time point, and if solids are introduced prior to this time pose quite a few risks for baby. It is also associated with increased risk of childhood obesity and chronic disease. Therefore it is quite surprising that the research protocol mentioned at the start of this post broke this rule. A small benefit in one area, and a whole lot of risks in other areas does not seem like a good idea to me!!
If you want to know more about infant feeding in the first year of life, I have a video series on this on my website. It cover breastfeeding, intro to solids, thinking about food allergy prevention, and also the pros and cons of different ways to introduce solids (baby led weaning, puree, responsive intro to solids) – another controversial issue.