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When is my baby ready to transition to solid foods?

Suggestions regarding the transition to complementary foods have changed many times in the last decades. Actually, if you ask your mother, she might tell you that she gave you your first meal at around three months old. Today, however, most paediatricians suggest transitioning to solid foods as soon as the baby is six months old.

When is my baby ready to transition to solid foods?

Recommendations from official sources

As the baby grows up, the mother’s milk or formula isn’t enough to cover all their energy and nutrient needs. So, we start offering complementary solid foods.

The European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) mentions that the transition to solid foods should begin somewhere between the 17th and the 26th week. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that babies can eat solid foods at around 6 months old but considers that milk isn’t enough to cover their iron needs and suggests the preventive administration of iron from 4 months old. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the baby’s age, to receive most of the breastfeeding’s benefits and avoid possible infections of the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems.

As you can see, there’s a slight disagreement on the exact age of the transition to solid foods, most health organizations agree that around 6 months, babies can and should be transitioning to solids.

Solid food consumption readiness criteria

As you read above, there’s no single correct age for the transition. In truth, since most authorities suggest the transition happens at the age of about 6 months old, it’s more practical to see the signs of neurological maturity that every baby exhibits. These are:

  1. Being able to keep their head in an upright position and sit still for a few seconds without support,
  2. Having outgrown the tongue extrusion reflex, in short, to have stopped pushing food outwards the moment it touches their lips (you can check that by placing a spoon or your finger on the lower lip),
  3. Having sufficient hand-eye coordination, that is to be attempting to bring to their mouth what they’re holding in their hand.

Indeed, most babies are developmentally ready at around the age of 6 months old, some earlier and some later. These criteria aren’t only for babies following the self-feeding method (BLW), but also for parents that will be giving purees to their little ones.

And why is there such concern over readiness signs?

It’s important to pay attention to the criteria signs mentioned above for one main reason: to minimize choking hazards as much as possible. The baby is normally protected from choking on a foreign object or food by pushing with their tongue outwards. This, in connection with the correct head support, that is, the baby being able to sit without help by themselves, lessens the danger further, since the baby can handle food better, and can easily discard it by leaning forward.

Another sign you might see in your baby at around six months old, though not one showing readiness, is interest in the food you’re eating. In truth, this is something that might start much earlier than the neurological readiness we analysed above.

Is there a reason to start the transition earlier?

You may have heard many myths about the correct age for the transition to solid foods.

One of the myths is about sleep. Many babies, from the age of 4 months old, will start to display changes in their sleeping schedule, waking up more often. This, however, doesn’t mean they’re ready to start solid foods early as well. The reasoning you might hear is that their hunger isn’t satisfied with milk, so they need more food.

Also, weight stability before the age of 6 months old doesn’t imply a need for a premature transition to solid foods. On the other hand, you must pinpoint the factor that might be causing that and correct it (for example, mistakes during breastfeeding, pacifiers, allergies, and more).

On the other hand, there’s a myth that claims that an early transition to solid foods is harmful to the baby due to their intestinal system’s lack of maturity to accept other foods besides milk. This is something that’s true when the transition to solid foods takes place before the age of 4 months old. If you see that your baby is ready to eat foods at 5 months and 2 weeks old, for example, you can freely start the transition to solid foods, at least as far as your baby’s neurological maturity is concerned. On the other hand, you might want to wait 2 more weeks so that they turn 6 months old, reducing the danger of gastrointestinal infections even further.

In conclusion, most recent suggestions claim that the transition to complementary foods at 6 months old is best for most babies, with a combination of an evaluation of their developmental readiness.

[All of the above in no way replaces your paediatrician’s instructions.]


Read more articles about babies’ diet here.

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