Why wait until four months to start your baby on solid foods?

Why is it that everyone tells you not to start foods before four months of age? My grandmother fed me when I was two weeks old.


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

Breastmilk was designed by nature to meet the needs of a baby for at least the first six months of life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics stated, "Exclusive breastfeeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and development for approximately the first six months after birth. Infants weaned before 12 months of age should not receive cow's milk feedings, but should receive iron-fortified infant formula. Gradual introduction of iron-enriched solid foods in the second half of the first year should complement the breast milk diet. It is recommended that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired ... In the first six months, water, juice, and other foods are generally unnecessary for breastfed infants."

The nutritional and medical sciences have come a long way since the days of our grandparents. Feeding solids in the first few weeks of life began in the 19th century, not as a response to meeting the appetite demands of babies, but because the industrial revolution was starting and nursing mothers needed to get back to the factories, leaving their babies for someone else to feed. That practice lasted well into the 20th century and only now is beginning to change as we learn more about what is best for baby.

What we have learned is that babies swallowing ability is not matured enough to swallow solids. Also, their digestive systems are not capable of handling the solute load that many of the solid foods put on it. In other words, babies are born with some growing up to do before being able to best swallow and digest solids.

Developmentally, by four months, most infants will be able to sit with support and will have good control of their neck and head. This allows the baby to indicate a desire for food by opening his mouth and leaning forward and to indicate disinterest or fullness by leaning back and turning away. Until baby can express these reactions, feeding solids may end up being a forced feeding situation.

Another objection to introducing solids before four months is based on the possibility that it may interfere with establishing sound eating habits and will contribute to overfeeding. If a baby is to be encouraged to stop eating as soon as they are full, it must be possible for them to communicate in some way with the person who is feeding them.

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