When to give your baby solid foods

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There seems to be a lot of confusion around when to start feeding solid food to babies. Doctors say six months but some younger babies are ravenous. When can you give her rice cereal?

If you are confused as to when to introduce solid foods, I will tell you that you are not alone! There is a rationale for the six-month introduction that you refer to and this is why. A joint statement of Health Canada, the Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada looked at these issues and have published the thought behind the six-month advice.

Exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months is accepted as the nutrition standard for infants and is promoted by the World Health Organization as a global public health recommendation. It is recommended except in very few medical situations, and is important for the healthy growth and development of infants and toddlers.

While they do go on to say that exclusive breastfeeding for six months continues to be the target for the implementation of the WHO/UNICEF Baby-Friendly Initiative and Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, in individual practice, guidance on the appropriate time to introduce complementary foods should also be led by the infant’s signs of readiness and may be a few weeks before or just after the sixth month.

We do not recommend waiting longer than six months as this increases risk of iron deficiency. Introducing solid foods too early, on the other hand, decreases the length of exclusive breastfeeding time for mothers who are doing that. For formula-fed babies, the same timeline applies.

The important aspect is individualization of your baby’s needs. Sit down with your healthcare provider and review your child’s growth and development. What is it that is leading you to believe that your four-month-old is ravenous? You might be misinterpreting the cues.

When you do introduce solids, they should be iron-rich, such as iron-fortified cereal or meat. Also, ask about when to introduce whole eggs and peanut butter as there is newer evidence supporting earlier introduction of these foods.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November 2013. 

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