In most cases it is advised that you should wait until your baby is six months old before introducing her to solid food. Waiting until this age protects your baby’s health by reducing the risk of getting infections from food and also developing food allergies. At six months she should have doubled her birth weight and her immune system is more robust. From six months of age formula or breast milk will not provide her with all the nutrients she requires as she is becoming more and more active. Waiting until she is six months old before introducing her to solids is even more important if your family has a history of
allergies or celiac disease. The gluten in grains can trigger celiac disease and the amount of babies having the disease has decreased since governments began advising to start babies on solids at six months rather than four months old.
If you feel that your baby is ready to start solid foods before she is six months then do get advice from your health visitor first, especially if your baby was born prematurely. Experts say that babies should not have solid foods before the end of their fourth month (17 weeks). You can look for signs that can indicate your baby is ready to be weaned:
• Does your baby sit up well whilst being supported? You can have her on your lap initially and she can sit in a highchair later on
• Can your baby hold her head up? She needs to be able to hold her head up in a steady and upright position to eat her first solid food
• Has she doubled her birth weight yet? This can happen before or after six months
• Is she eyeing up your food with curiosity? Maybe she is reaching out for your plate and trying to put your food in her mouth?
• Can she make chewing motions? Your baby needs to be able to manoeuvre food to the back of her mouth and then swallow. When she starts swallowing properly she will probably dribble less
• Does she still seem hungry after a substantial feeding of milk?
Young babies have a tongue thrust reflex which means they push food out of their mouths with their tongues. Your baby may lose this reflex at four months of age but it does not necessarily mean that she is then ready for solid food. At six months she will find it much easier to keep the food in her mouth and chew it.
If you have decided to start with solid food and your baby is less than six months old, foods that you should not give her are:
• Gluten, found in cereals and grains
• Fish and shellfish
• Dairy products
• Citrus fruits
If you are wondering whether you should continue breastfeeding then the answer is yes! For her first six months, breast milk is the best food for your baby. Formula milk and breast milk contain vital vitamins, protein and iron that are easily digestible and will remain her most important nutritional source until she is twelve months old.
By Eirian Hallinan