Don’t Wait too Long to Start Solids
This is a guest post from A Mother in Israel’s Hannah Katsman:
There’s a lot of contradictory information out there about when to start offering your baby solid food. In this interview with Shoshi Belkowitz, a speech pathologist whom I met recently at a lactation conference, she talks about the ideal time for babies to start on solid.
How did you get involved in breastfeeding issues? SB: In my work in the hospital clinic, I often help babies whose developmental issues prevent them from breastfeeding correctly. The hospital lactation consultant I work with invited me to take a breastfeeding course, and the rest is history. I’ve since developed exercises for improved breastfeeding technique for babies with problems, and have lectured to lactation consultants. Currently, I see babies with swallowing and feeding problems at my private clinic in Raanana.
Hannah Katsman: How does breastfeeding affect infant development? Shoshi Belcovitz: Breastfeeding requires the use of all facial muscles. Bottle-fed babies only use some of the muscles, so the others don’t fully develop. This can affect orthodontia and speech.
If breastmilk is the best food, why not continue exclusive breastfeeding indefinitely? Delaying solid foods is risky. First of all, some nutrients need to be added to the baby’s diet at around six months, when iron stores from birth are starting to be depleted. While the iron in breastmilk is well-absorbed, iron is only present in small amounts. Also, at around this age, babies’ mouths and digestive system develop the physical ability to deal with solids. There is a psychological element too—at this age babies enjoy tasting, using their mouths, and experimenting with textures. Babies only offered solids for the first time at around a year of age often gag. I frequently see these babies in my clinic.
When should babies first get solid foods? According to the new health ministry guidelines, you can give baby “tastes” at four months or older. A taste means giving a little bit on the tip of the parent’s finger, and making sure there’s no allergic reaction.* Commercial, strained baby food shouldn’t be given until the baby can sit upright and swallow correctly. Most babies have enough control of their upper bodies by 5 to 7 months, although they may still need support while sitting.
Babies like to try eating by themselves, which is an important developmental step. They can coordinate talking and eating. Most babies are ready for spoonfuls at 6-7 months.
Is there a difference in timing depending on whether the baby is formula-fed or bottle-fed? No, these guidelines apply to all healthy babies.
What should babies be eating? Soup, meats, vegetables, fruits. Foods rich in vitamins. Babies’ gums are strong enough to chew most foods even without teeth.
What about the baby who refuses to eat solids? Exposing the baby to solids is what counts—even if the baby says no. A baby should never be forced to eat, because he needs the freedom to decide what he likes. Forcing solids can lead to a different set of problems.
Most babies who refuse solids are normal, even up to a year or longer. But sometimes there is an objective reason for the refusal. These include reflux, tongue-tie, sensory integration issues and hyper- or hyposensitivity to textures and tastes. I can spot hypotonia, or poor muscle tone, when it’s too easy to remove a bottle from the baby’s mouth.
What’s the most important message for parents? Starting solids should be a fun, social activity and should be started at the appropriate age—4 months for tastes via the parent’s finger and 6-7 months for spoon-feeding.
*An AAP report indicates that babies exposed to solids at 4-6 months don’t have more allergies than those who wait longer.
Shoshi can be reached at 052-222-0387
Hannah Katsman writes on parenting and Judaism at A Mother in Israel and helps home cooks save time and money at CookingManager.Com See more on starting solids at this link or in the series Feed Your Baby Frugally. Getting Enough Sleep without Crying It Out appeared at JewishMom.Com in February.
Image courtesy of Flickr.com user Geoff Livingston