Solids: More on waiting until 4 months

In your literature you state that you shouldn't feed your child cereals until 4 months yet in countries such as New Zealand they recommended giving children cereal at 2 months of age. And then gradually adding other foods every month or so. I don't understand how these facts can differ so much and how you can say that it is wrong to do that.

Being born in New Zealand and turning out just fine. And my child needing something more than breast milk when a child is eating 12 times a day and still not getting full something else has to be added. Please explain why you feel we shouldn't add cereal until 4 months.

Thank you for your time and answer.
Merredith

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Dear Merredith,

There are several reasons that waiting until four months to offer solids to infants is recommended. First of all, adequate intakes of human milk or a commercial infant formula meet all the known nutritional requirements of infants for the first 6 months of life. In fact, formula and breastmilk is more energy dense than the solids that are offered to replace them. Secondly, it is not until age 4 or 5 months that the extrusion reflex of early infancy has disappeared, and the ability to swallow nonliquid foods has become established. Prior to that, babies have a hard time moving food from the front of their mouth to the back and solids have to be made very liquid so as to actually flow to the back of the mouth in order for the baby to swallow it. Finally, deferring introduction of solids until 4 to 5 months of age relates to the establishment of eating habits. Infants should be encouraged to stop breastfeeding when showing signs of satiety, and should not be encouraged to eat more than they desire.

Feeding by spoon during the early months of life interferes with the ability of infants to communicate with the person feeding them and is, in a minor sense, a form of force feeding. By four months most babies can sit with support, and are able to communicate to the feeder by demonstrating a desire for food by body movements toward the food, mouth opening and vocalizations or to demonstrate disinterest in the food by back arching, movements away from the spoon, or crying. In other words, the baby can better control his intake according to his hunger and satiety, when he is able to communicate those feelings. There are some babies who can do this at three months of age. So, really, it is a general suggestion which must be adapted to individual needs. A premature baby may have to wait to 6 or more months before he can be an active participant in solid feeding. You will need to go with what your baby is telling you.

Cultural differences will continue to exist, as will generational ones. I, like you, was brought up in an age when solids where introduced early on. How I turned out is a matter of debate. It is not so much an issue of what babies can survive on, or even turn out fine on, it is a matter of trying to find out what is optimal for your baby. No doubt, he will grow up successfully either way, but if we can optimize his ability to regulate his intake according to his body signals we should try to do so. I know that here in the U.S., we have an epidemic of obesity, that may be partly caused by people eating when they are not hungry, or feeling like they have to 'clean their plate' even when their stomach says full.

I hope this has answered your question. As you can see, you are correct in that there is no black or white on this issue, no overriding medical reason for it. Rather, it is a developmental issue and a cultural and behavioral one.

Thank you for writing.

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