First, let's talk about the myths behind starting first foods with baby:
I can't wait to introduce foods to my baby - with a full tummy, she'll finally sleep through the night!
^^ Nope. Sorry.
The truth is, most babies just don’t sleep through the night. They are simply not programmed for it!
Sleep patterns change and develop as baby grows, and age is the only factor that seems to increase their ability to sleep through the night.
While hunger may be a factor in a night waking for an infant, it is generally a hunger for milk (which will not disappear as soon as solids are introduced – in fact it will be the main source of calories for many more months!).
You might be tempted to introduce solids early if you are sleep-deprived – and I completely understand the desperation to find a solution! – but you may be disappointed to find that a full tummy does not necessarily lead to longer, deeper or more restful sleep.
Dang, well at least baby will stop wanting to guzzle so much milk all day long once I introduce mealtimes!
^^ Not really.
Some days, baby is going to be a real milk guzzler. I remember the cluster feeds, the “wonder weeks” where Wee Man was taking a developmental leap, the six-feeds-in-the-night that left me utterly exhausted. And I also remember the terrible worry that the milk I was feeding him just wasn’t enough. Well, I’m here to tell you that milk IS enough for the first six months, and continues to be just-about-enough for many months afterward.
This should help to put it into perspective: The calories from complementary foods eaten at 6-8 months of age make up about approximately one-fifth of the total requirement (based on average breastmilk intake). By nine to 11 months, complementary feedings contribute just under half of the estimated total energy requirement. During this time, breastmilk or formula is still the primary need for baby’s calorie intake! From one year, food will provide nearly two-thirds of their energy needs.
So, the old refrain that “food before one is just for fun” really does ring true.
But hang on, if waking in the night isn't a sign to introduce first foods, and having an insatiable appetite for milk isn't a sign to introduce first foods, what is?!
^^ In fact, there are FIVE tell-tale signs when baby is ready to start first foods. Let's go through them. (and scroll to the end for your cheat sheet download!)
The Five Developmental Signs Baby is Ready for Solid Foods
And remember, this is based on current international guidelines - not the advice your parents may have followed years ago!
Baby can hold their head upright, without support. Head control is important in self-feeding and swallowing.
Baby can sit upright (even if they need a little support, like the back of a chair). This can mean sitting up by themselves, or with the support of your hand or a chair back. Babies must always be sat upright to eat, to ensure they can properly swallow. No slouching, no reclining, and no risk of falling over!
Baby can bring food to their mouth. If so, you will have by now experienced baby's need to put everything in their mouth. It’s a natural part of learning and sensory development. If baby is attempting to eat your TV remote, their toys and the cat's fluffy tail, they've passed this test :)
Baby has lost their tongue-thrust reflex so they can swallow food. Babies are born with a tongue-thrust reflex, which causes baby to push out their tongue when an object is placed in their mouth. In early life, this keeps them safe from choking on foreign objects. As they age, they lose this reflex, which is needed for chewing and swallowing food.
Baby can communicate a 'full' signal, like shaking their head or pulling away. Even without the use of language, babies have an amazing ability to tell us “no more, please!”, even when they’re on the breast or bottle. We’ve all experienced the head shaking and swatting that occurs when they’ve had enough! This is a good sign that baby knows their own appetite and wants to be in the driver’s seat of when and how much they are fed. Great skills for baby led weaning :)
If you answered NO to any of the signs above - give it another week and check again. Babies change and grow constantly :) The good news is that you've got time to study up and get prepared for this major milestone.
What age is baby ready for first foods?
The signs above usually begin to show at around six months of age. Of course, every baby is different and some may be ready a bit earlier and some a bit later.
Let me set the record straight for you, based on current research. The guidelines agree, in developed countries: wait until about 6 months, based on developmental readiness. Here's a summary of current guidelines for quick reference:
World Health Organisation - Exclusive breastfeeding for first six months, complementary foods during breastfeeding for 2 years+
UK Department of Health & National Health Service - Breastmilk or infant formula exclusively until about six months, solid foods beginning around six months
American Academy of Pediatrics - Exclusive breastfeeding for about six months, complementary foods during breastfeeding to 1 year+
Australian National Health and Medical Research Council - Exclusive breastfeeding until at least six months
Health Canada - Exclusive breastfeeding until around six months, complementary foods during breastfeeding for 2 years (and beyond)
Starting Solids Too Early
Clearly, there’s a lot of confusion about the appropriate time to introduce solids to babies. Despite this consistent guidance from health organisations, most parents in developed countries tend to introduce solids between four and six months of age. In 2013, 40% of US parents started babies on solids before four months of age! In fact, 9% started as early as four weeks! And as a parent of a baby, you know that there is a huge difference between the development of a 4-month-old and a 6-month-old baby.
If you would like to fully involve baby in their eating experience, and let them lead, I implore you to wait for all those signs of readiness which will happen around the six-month mark.
The Benefits of Waiting Until Baby is Ready
What's great about waiting for all the true signs of readiness is that baby will be physiologically able to eat nearly everything on the menu, and will be developmentally ready to feed themselves. So you can let baby lead, and know that this is the first step in a lifelong journey of being a happy, healthy eater.
And all you had to do?
Wait for baby to be truly ready. Not based on your schedule - or anyone else's! - but their own developmental stage.
Download the Baby-Led Weaning Readiness Checklist
Download your free First Foods Readiness Checklist so you can refer back to the TRUE signs of readiness before you start solids with your baby.