If your baby is ‘not sleeping well’ or ‘seems hungry’ after breastfeeding or a bottle, you shouldn't necessarily take it to mean she is ready for solids. In fact, those are two common reasons given by mums who have introduced their babies to solid foods too early.
Part of the reason why mums may be moving to solid foods too soon is that they’re misinterpreting the cues about their baby's readiness for solids. For example, parents will often complain around three to four months that their baby is getting hungrier. However, this most likely due to a growth spurt that happens around three months (one that can be managed with an increase in the baby’s liquid diet).
New Zealand Paediatric Dietitian and Director of Kidz Nutrition in Tauranga, Rebecca Bruce (NZRD), says it is important to watch for cues like good head control, but it’s just as important to listen to what your baby’s behaviour tells you.
“Solids should be introduced around six months of age, depending on developmental cues but not before four months.
“Watch for clues like when your baby begins to show an interest in what others are eating, or starts putting his hand or other objects to his mouth.
“Once your baby is ready for solids it is important to get on to iron-rich foods, like meat and iron fortified cereals, fairly soon. Many parents start with fruit and vegetables but bear in mind that your baby’s iron stores from birth will be running out around six months and breastmilk isn’t going to provide enough alone.”
Here are six signs to watch for that may indicate, around six or so months of age, that your baby may be ready for solids:
1. Bye-bye tongue reflex
If your baby keeps on pushing food (or the pacifier) out of her mouth with her tongue, it’s not a comment on your cooking.
“If your baby is pushing the food out of their mouth it’s likely a tongue reflex, and you may want to consider waiting a week or so before trying again,” says Rebecca.
Tongue reflex helps your baby suck from a breast or bottle and usually disappears between four and six months.
2. Hand-to-eye coordination
‘Oh, oh, nearly there, yes… no’. If your baby is sticking the broccoli in his eye, it may mean that he still has some work to do on his hand-to-eye coordination.
However, if you find that baby is beginning to hit the mark and can pick up food and put it in his mouth, he’s on his way to enjoying the textures and flavours of solid food.
3. No teeth will chew
Your baby doesn't have to be able to be chew. If she’s chewing, teeth or no teeth, she may be ready for solids, which will also help with the development of her chewing and swallowing skills.
Rebecca suggests that once your baby is feeding on solids, give her a baby spoon to play with, a rusk to suck on or some finger foods at meals times.
“This will help move the gag reflex back to make swallowing solids easier.”
4. Grab it time
Another sign your baby may be ready for solids is that she can grab objects with her whole hand, or she's working on her pincer grasp (thumb and forefinger). Make sure the food is soft – like cooked carrot sticks or slices of avocado – so that it fits comfortably in her fist.
5. You fascinate me
If your baby is staring at you in rapt fascination while you grab a quick moment of downtime and a bit to eat, it’s probably not anything to do with your looks.
Watching you eat, wanting some of what you’ve got, a desire to join mealtimes, swiping food off your plate or simply mimicking your actions shows he may be ready for solid foods.
Try not to isolate your baby from the family during mealtimes. Remember that he learns from observation, so being able to observe the family eating and enjoying a variety of different foods is a great learning experience for him.
6. Steady there
If your baby’s head is no longer so wobbly, and he can sit on his own (with some back support from a highchair), he may be ready for solids. Other than avoiding food splatter, good head control is essential for enabling your baby to swallow solid foods and sit in a highchair. Baby’s neck muscles will usually be strong enough to hold his neck up around six months.
Infant specialists recommend continuing to give your baby breastmilk or formula for the first year as they gradually transition from a liquids diet to a whole new world of solid food types, flavours and textures.
Making a solid start
Rebecca recommends you try to avoid giving your baby solids straight after breastfeeding or a formula feed, because your baby may be full of milk and not interested in trying something new.
“Always give solids after your milk feed until 8-9 months of age, but consider waiting half-an-hour or an hour before trying.
“Avoid going in with three meals a day. Start with one meal a day and try each new food individually over 2-3 days to make sure there is no reaction. The evening is not the best time of day to trial a new food for the first time. Lunch time is good, and it may be only a baby spoon or two, to begin with.”
ABOUT Rebecca Bruce (NZRD)
The Director of Kidz Nutrition is a Paediatric Dietitian with a passion for improving children’s health and wellbeing through nutrition. Since completing her Post Graduate Diploma in Dietetics in 2003, Rebecca has worked in a variety of clinical areas both in NZ and the UK, but predominantly in paediatrics, her clinical speciality.
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