Starting solids: When is the right time?

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Starting solids: When is the right time?

Question

When's the right time to start feeding a baby solid foods?

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Answer

The best window of opportunity for starting solids is generally between ages 4 months and 6 months. During this time, babies begin to develop the coordination needed to close their lips around a spoon as well as move solid food from the front to the back of their mouths for swallowing.

Starting solids too early — before age 4 months — can:

  • Pose a risk of aspiration — or sucking food into the airway — since most babies don't have the oral motor skills to safely swallow foods before age 4 months
  • Cause a baby to get too much or not enough calories or nutrients
  • Increase a baby's risk of obesity

In addition, starting solids before age 4 months hasn't been shown to help babies sleep better at night.

Starting solids too late — after age 6 months — poses another set of issues. Waiting too long can:

  • Slow a baby's growth
  • Cause iron deficiency in breast-fed babies
  • Lead to oral motor function delays
  • Cause an aversion to solid foods

Postponing solids — including highly allergenic foods — past 4 to 6 months hasn't been shown to prevent asthma, hay fever, eczema or food allergies.

In addition to your baby's age, look for other signs that he or she is ready to start eating solid foods. Can your baby hold his or her head in a steady, upright position? Can your baby sit with support? If you answer yes to these questions and you have the OK from your baby's doctor, you can begin supplementing your baby's liquid diet. Remember, however, breast milk or formula remains your baby's primary source of nutrition until age 1.

If you're concerned about food allergies or any close relatives have a food allergy, check with your baby's doctor or a dietitian before starting solids. You might consider introducing single-ingredient solids at a rate of no more than one new food a week. In addition, you might consider giving your child his or her first tastes of a highly allergenic food, such as eggs, fish or peanut butter, at home — rather than at a restaurant — with an oral antihistamine available, just in case. If your child doesn't have a reaction, you can continue introducing the food in gradually increasing amounts.

Last Updated: 2011-06-24
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