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What’s the Right Age to Introduce Solid Foods?

Parents have been sending me a lot of questions lately asking what is the right age to start introducing their baby to solid foods. They’ve heard 6 months before. Now they’re hearing 4 months from other health professionals. And, some places online say 4 – 6 months. They’re right to be confused with all this conflicting information. If you’re wondering what age to start your baby on sold foods, here’s the scoop…

I suspect that an article in February’s New England Journal of Medicine is what’s behind the advice that these health professionals are giving parents. Now I’m not in the doctor’s office when the parents are being given this advice, so this is a best guess. The New England Journal of Medicine is very widely read, which is why I’m suspecting it’s behind the advice that parents are receiving. Because officially the recommendations haven’t changed. The World Health Organization recommends 6 months1. In Canada the recommendations from Health Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada and the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada say 6 months2. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “around 6 months”3.

What caught people’s attention in the New England Journal of Medicine article is that the research study found a significant decrease in peanut allergy with their intervention4. What was their intervention? To introduce, and regularly feed, peanuts to children starting as babies versus waiting until they were 5 years old. Giving peanuts to the babies reduced the incidence of peanut allergy. But here’s where I suspect the misunderstanding comes in. The children in the “early” introduction of peanuts group were between 4 – 11 months old. Because this is “early” versus introducing peanuts at 5 years old. The article doesn’t compare introducing peanuts at 4 months versus 6 months. However, I suspect that busy health professionals could have glanced at this article and mistakenly concluded that the “early” group meant introducing peanuts at 4 months versus 6 months of age. Especially, since the researchers didn’t report the older children’s age as 5 years, but as 60 months.

The reality is that the scientific and health communities still don’t know anything definitive about preventing food allergies. We certainly don’t yet know the perfect age to introduce solid foods to minimize food allergy.

What we do know is that babies start to run low on the iron that they’ve stored in their bodies at approximately 6 months of age. And so it’s at this time that we need to start introducing iron from a new source, i.e. solid foods. Iron is important for brain development in babies and young children.

And, babies show the signs of being ready to start solid foods between 4 – 6 months. Just like every other developmental stage, babies arrive here at slightly different ages. The signs of readiness for eating solid foods are:

  • The disappearance of the extrusion reflex.
  • The ability to sit up (with support) and hold their own head up (without support).
  • Can visually track your movement.
  • Your baby to become fascinated with watching people eating.

As we learn more about what causes food allergies and how to prevent them, the recommendations may change. Until we know more, I still recommend starting solid foods at about 6 months. If your little one is between 4 – 6 months, you’re seeing all the signs of readiness, and you’re keen to start – go ahead. If you enjoy the simplicity of breast or bottle feeding or you’re not yet seeing the signs of readiness in your child, hold off until 6 months of age. My advice for the last 7 years has been “start solids at about 6 months”. I’m not changing my advice yet.
References:

  1. http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/complementary_feeding/en/
  2. http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/healthy-living-vie-saine/infant-care-soins-bebe/nutrition-alimentation-eng.php?_ga=1.150740528.74375254.1447739252
  3. https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/HALF-Implementation-Guide/Age-Specific-Content/Pages/Infant-Food-and-Feeding.aspx
  4. http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa1414850

 

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Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD helps moms and dads support your picky kids to get good nutrition today…and instill a life-long love of healthy eating. Find out more at www.KristenYarker.com

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