When To Introduce Solids: 4 or 6 months?

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Ava with her spoon

Miss A is now over 4 months of age and we have been told by our maternal and child health nurse that we can begin her on solids if she appears to be ready. Apparently Australia’s new stand on introducing solids is to do so between 4 and 6 months of age, and that the previous guidelines of introducing certain foods at certain ages is now out the window. You can freely give them anything you want in no particular order. So forget things like “introduce high allergenic foods like cows milk/eggs/nuts after one year of age” etc and give them peanut butter for their first food if you’ll like.

So what is with the change you ask? Why are we now being told to introduce foods no later than 6 months when the previous guideline was no earlier than 6 months? Apparently the previous guidelines were thought to prevent allergies by giving the gut time to mature and adjust slowly to each type of food, but current research is showing that it actually doesn’t help to do so. After all, all you need to do is look around to realise that childhood allergies seem to be on the rise. Gee, when I went to school I didn’t even know anyone who was allergic to anything…and now bringing nuts to school is like a federal crime.

So now Australia has gone upside down on its head and adopted Europe’s approach of introducing a wide variety of foods early on, saying doing this in fact prevents allergies, not causes it. Oh wow, as if parenting wasn’t already confusing enough. First they say “do this” then they say “oopsies, we may not have been right on that…scrap that and do the total opposite…but you know…we’re not entirely sure if that actually works either…lets just try and see what happens shall we”. 

The interesting thing though is all this “new research” is based on both formula-fed and breastfed babies, not ONLY on exclusively breastfed babies. So in one corner of the ring, you have the health professionals who still argue breast is best for the first 6 months (and are worried that the early introduction of solids might cause babies to start nursing less before they should). Formula-fed babies might need solids sooner because the artificial vitamins and minerals in formula aren’t as easily absorbed as the ones in breastmilk. And of course, there’s that argument that formula is already something foreign to the gut anyway whereas breastmilk is optimal food and should be exclusively taken until babies’ iron stores naturally start to deplete around 6 months and supplementary foods need to be added.

My verdict on this all? Do your research and make up your own mind because you can find an argument for and against everything these days. Personally I think there may be a smidgen of truth in the early-introduction-wide-variety thing because I hardly know of any Asians having allergies and our culture (well, the older generations anyway) tends to ignore medical advice and feed babies all sorts of things very early on…but that’s obviously just my own observation and not scientific proof. The bottom line is don’t do something just because someone tells you to do it. I believe it’s best to trust your own maternal instincts and take cues from your baby because just like not all babies roll and crawl and walk and talk at the same age, neither are they ready for solids at the same age. Some babies could be ready for solids at 4 months, others at 9 months. It’s not like they’ll magically be ready at 6 months anyway. Many parents get all excited about feeding their baby their first taste of solids on the exact day they turn 6 months…only to have baby spit it right out.

Some cues to follow:

  • Lost of extrusion reflex (that causes them to push anything but a nipple out of their mouth with their tongues)
  • Ability to sit up straight with good neck/head control so as to prevent choking
  • Increased saliva production/drooling
  • Shows high interest in food
  • Good hand control- can grab food to feed themselves

Miss A has been drooling heaps and showing high interest in food for a while but I think it’s only because she’s curious and is at the age where she wants to put everything into her mouth. I don’t think she has any concept of eating yet. There is something in me that just doesn’t feel comfortable shoving purees into her mouth right now. I would probably prefer it if she could sit up a bit better. So for now I have just given her silicone baby spoons and a sippy cup to play with and practice holding. Whenever I think she’s ready…we will go for it!

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