By Brandie Weikle & Diana Swift
When Gail Powell had her daughter two years ago, her doula, La Leche League leader and family doctor all told her to wait until Charlotte was six months old before introducing solid foods. “But a few moms I know gave their kids solids at around four months – one because her baby wasn’t gaining weight as quickly as the doctor wanted her to, and another because that’s what her mom told her to do,” says the Georgetown, Ont., mom.
So what gives? While the Canadian Paediatric Society (cps) and the World Health Organization (who) recommend only breast milk for the first six months, there’s still a lot of conflicting advice out there. Here’s what you need to know.
Starting solids earlier means less tum-my space for nutrient- and antibody-rich breast milk (or the next best thing, infant formula), says Ellen Desjardins, a public health nutritionist in Waterloo, Ont. Plus, waiting gives her digestive and immune systems more time to mature. That means fewer serious allergic reactions and less digestive upset or infection. Be assured she’s already getting everything she needs.
In most cases, there’s no advantage to starting early. A comprehensive who study showed that waiting until six months didn’t result in smaller babies. “Also, many babies are not physically ready to swallow solids before that time,” says Desjardins. By six months most babies can sit up, gum solids and manipulate food with their tongues. But there’s room for flexibility, says Margaret Boland, an Ottawa pediatric gastroenterologist and chair of the cps’s nutrition committee. “If your child seems ready for and interested in solid food, discuss it with her doctor.”
Many parents start their babies on rice cereal, but there’s no strict order. You can try any kind of iron-fortified cereal apart from wheat (see “Foods best saved for later,” left) or opt for a fruit or vegetable. You won’t spoil your child’s taste buds if you offer fruit before veggies – that’s a myth, says Desjardins. Just wait a few days after introducing a new food before moving on to the next, so you can watch for an allergic reaction.
Since breast milk or formula is still the main source of nutrition, the objective at first is simply to teach swallowing and chewing. So don’t worry if your baby pushes everything right back out. It’s a gradual process that eventually results in solid foods edging out milk by about age one. “Portion size should be entirely up to the baby,” says Desjardins.
When to introduce these foods depends on your family history of allergies, but here are some rough guidelines on when to wait.
Wheat – Wait Until…Eight to 10 months, after all other grains are introduced
Egg white – Wait Until…One year, but try before immunizations that contain albumin
Peanuts and Tree nuts – Wait Until…Two years for peanut butter, three or more if food allergies run in the family. Whole nuts are a choking risk for kids under three
Shellfish – Wait Until…Two years, three if there’s a family history of allergy