6 Months to Solids: Why Wait?

With babies, parents are always looking forward to milestones. Firsts always come with such wonderful emotions: the first time they roll over, first teeth, the first steps. As parents, we try try to patiently wait for these precious moments. Often times, however, parents anxiously await the moment that they can feed their babies solid foods for the first time. Maybe you are hoping that starting on solids earlier will quench their hunger or help them sleep through the night. However, did you know that introducing them to solids too soon can have a negative effect on their gut? Increase their risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and Celiac disease? Increase their risk of becoming obese? And they may, in fact, receive less nourishment?

The April 2013 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics showed that many moms are feeding their babies solid food earlier without understanding the risks. Their study questioned 1,300 moms and learned that 40 percent introduced solid food before 6 months. Half of those were fed solid food before 4 months, and in 10 percent solid food was actually started in the first 4 weeks of life. Parents should feed their babies on the timetable that is developmentally and nutritionally correct. This should be determined by signs of readiness shown by the baby. It should also be no sooner than 6 months. It is important not to be in a rush when introducing solid foods. Today we offer you some solid reasons for waiting!

The Pressure Of Early Feeding

As you may have already experienced, sometimes having a baby can bring out many people’s opinions on how you should raise him or her. Though sometimes a little advice can be useful, advice can also feel like criticism – or pressure. It can also cause you to feel intimidated and many parents in this situation find it difficult to stand their ground.

It is important as a parent in this age of new information to educate yourself on the facts. When our parents and grandparents were raising children, the rules about starting solids were very different — with good reason. Along with time comes new research and emerging facts that weren’t always available. Years ago many babies were fed solid foods as early as 6 weeks of age. Based on their experiences these older relatives may then ignore or even be contemptuous of the current feeding recommendations.

Most often the best thing that you can do is patiently listen to the advice being offered. Thank them for their concern and recognize their desire to help. You can elaborate, if necessary, by telling them that waiting until at least 6 months of age to start solids is recommended by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, The American Academy of Family Physicians, National Health & Medical Research Council, as well as many prominent pediatricians. This article will help you understand the reasoning behind these recommendations so that you can also help to educate those around you, especially those who may doubt your decisions.

Intestines Need to Mature

The intestines are the body’s filtering system. They screen out harmful substances while allowing healthy nutrients to enter. During the early months this filtering process is immature. Sometime between 4 and 6 months your baby’s intestinal lining becomes more selective about what it allows to pass through. This is a developmental spurt in a child that is called a closure.

The protein immunoglobulin, IGA, is secreted by the maturing intestine and helps to prevent potentially allergenic foods from entering your babies bloodstream. Acting as a protective coating, IGA covers the intestines and prevents the passage of these harmful allergens. During the early months, a baby’s production of IGA is low. This leaves the body more susceptible to having potentially allergenic food molecules enter into their system. Once these food molecules are in their blood, the immune system may counter by producing antibodies to that food which in turn can create a food allergy. Once your baby has reached the 6-7 month mark their intestines are more mature and better able to filter properly.

Virgin Gut

Infants are said to have a “virgin gut” or an “open gut.” The gut (or intestines) are in this state from birth until around 4-6 months of age. The Pediatrics, Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, states that “After birth the gut mucosa is challenged by a myriad of antigens, from viruses to commensal microbiota and dietary antigens. Although controlled in the mature gut, these antigens may induce inflammation in the developing gastrointestinal tract.”

Studies have showcased to us that an immature gut may allow whole proteins, microbes, pathogens and possibly bits of foods to pass into the bloodstream whereas a mature gut will be able to block the invaders.

Tongue Thrust Reflux

During your babies first few months of life, their tongue thrust reflex is what protects them against choking. When an unusual object is felt on their tongue, it is automatically pushed outward by the tongue rather then down the throat. If your babies tongue is pushing their food out of their mouth, that is showcasing this reflex. Between four to six months this trait will begin to dissipate, but before it does, your child is not ready to begin solids.

Solid Food Myths

  • Starting Solids Early Will Help Babies Sleep Through The Night: This is one of the biggest solid food feeding myths out there. Sleep deprived parents are told by others and often believe that a full tummy will cause a baby to sleep longer. The truth is very simple: solid foods do not help your baby sleep through the night. First off, it is important to recognize that beginning solid foods is a developmental skill, and not a way to fill the baby up. Also, introducing solids can cause general stomach upset and other side effects that would cause disruption to their sleep!
  • Baby Has Doubled Their Birth Weight And Should Start Solids: There is no “magic” number for starting solids. The maturity of the digestive tract and a baby’s developmental readiness, not the baby’s weight, make the difference in being ready to begin solids. The health benefits of holding off until at least six months holds true for all babies even those who weigh more. Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommendations do not change based on weight.
  • There Is Not Enough Iron In Breast Milk: It is in fact true that breast milk has lower iron levels than formula, but the iron in breast milk is more readily absorbed by a baby’s gut than the iron in formula. At some point after the first 6 months, iron will need to be introduced in a form other than breast milk, but this can be done with just small amounts of solids.
  • You Don’t Produce Enough Milk to Satisfy Baby: Most of the time mothers have the ability to produce enough milk to exclusively feed their baby. Allowing your baby to nurse on demand will enable your body to make enough milk for your baby. Beginning solid foods too early could actually cause your baby to eat less, in turn decreasing your milk supply before you hit the six month mark.

Giving solids too soon also puts an end to exclusive breast-feeding, which the AAP recommends for about the first 6 months because of numerous health benefits for infants. These benefits include a reduced risk of respiratory and ear infections, diarrhea, diabetes, obesity and sudden infant death syndrome.

Two million Americans are suffering from various food allergies and approximately 65% of the population is overweight (around 31% is obese)! This is an important statistic to remember if anyone ever uses the line “Both my child and I had solids early and turned out fine.” Giving your child’s body and specifically their digestive system the foot up it needs is very important! Though many of these facts do show the 4-5 month age range as when your child’s body will be ready, there is no true way to know without examining their gut. Since there is no true benefit and only risk involved in starting early, wait until 6 months to ensure that the whole body is completely ready to begin this next stage of eating. A mere couples of weeks may be the choice between a gut infection of not.

Reached the 6 month mark and showing signs of readiness for solid foods? Learn a little more about Nitrates in Baby Food and Skipping Purees With Baby Lead Weaning.

This post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician, doctor or health care professional. Please read our terms of use for more information.

Photo Credits: The Art of Making A Baby

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Jessica is a holistic health counselor and work from home mom living in the middle of nowhere USA with her sweet little boy! She suffers from a serious case of compulsive globe-trotting and is always counting the days until her next move or adventure. You can often find her trying to get in her exercise in by lunging through the park while chasing after her very energetic little boy! She is constantly fueled and energized by her love for healthy eating and occasionally copious amounts of caffeine.

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