Introducing Solids

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated February 5, 2013.

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dsc2When to start giving solids to your baby is an important issue as is knowing how long to breastfeed your baby. There is a lot of conflicting advice. . . not to mention grandparents and parents who just can’t wait to give their new little blessing a spoonful of food.

How can you know your child is ready?  And what are cues that your baby gives that may not actually mean he is ready for solids?

There are several common cues that are mistaken to mean a baby is ready for solids.  Many parents believe that a baby waking more often is one of these signs.  Though sometimes this is the case, with this cue alone it is more likely to be other factors such as teething, a growth spurt, or illness.

Due to a baby’s immature gastrointestinal system it is important to wait until around the middle of the first year before introducing solids; this will also help minimize his chances of developing food allergies.  Around this time, though, many babies are also teething and going through growth spurts.

Teething can be very painful and cause restless sleep, tears, lots of comfort nursing (because it feels good on their gums!), and a complete change in his typical routine.  Growth spurts may mean needing more milk, but not necessarily solid food.  Regardless of the reason, research shows that introducing solids to a baby before six months will not help him to sleep longer.1

Other parents are told that since their baby is so big, he will need solids earlier than other babies.  This “cue” couldn’t be further from the truth.  First, big or small, a mom who is feeding her baby on demand will nearly always be able to make enough milk – and not just for a big baby, but for twins and triplets as well!  Also, breast milk is protective against obesity later in life so it is even more critical to continue to exclusively breastfeed a large baby until he is ready for solids.2

Conversely, parents may believe that their small baby needs solids earlier to help her grow.  Calorie for calorie, breast milk is one of the richest, most nutrient-dense foods a baby can eat.  Introducing solids, which may cause total breast milk consumption to decrease, would not help a small baby increase in weight.

Finally, many parents believe that a baby grabbing food off their plates and bringing it to his mouth means he must be hungry and ready for solids.  However, this is what babies do with just about everything they come in contact with at this age – food or not.  Books, toy cars, paper, cords, etc. are all fair game.  It’s how they explore their world, as well as being a way to bring some relief to gums that are preparing to cut teeth.

Just because they grab food and try to put it in their mouths doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready for solids.  Instead, parents need to look at all the readiness signs for starting solids in their totality and then decide if they feel their child is ready.  When in doubt, it won’t hurt to wait a few extra weeks or a month for a healthy, full-term baby either!

So what are signs that your baby is actually ready to start solids?  You should notice the following in your baby:

  • He is able to sit up – unassisted
  • He is interested in food, grabbing it from your plate and trying to put in mouth
  • His tongue no longer automatically thrusts food right back out
  • He is able to chew his food (this does not mean he has teeth though; babies can gum around food to “chew” it quite effectively)
  • He has developed the pincer grasp – ability to pick up food with his thumb and index finger

As parents, you will notice these signs as well as the overall attitude of your baby.  If you notice these signs before six months, it is still recommended by the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, Health Canada, Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, and others to delay solids until six months.  There is no harm in waiting longer in a healthy, full-term baby.  In fact, many babies will not be ready for solids until 7-8 months or later.  Follow his cues.  Remember, the first year of life his primary nutrition should come from breast milk!

For further tips on starting solids, click here!

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Keane V, et al. Do solids help baby sleep through the night? American Journal of Diseases of Children 1988; 142: 404-05.
  2. Kalies H, et al. The Effect of Breastfeeding on Weight Gain in Infants:  Results of a Birth Cohort Study. European Jornal of Medical Research, 2005 Jan 28; 10(1):36-42.