You might have seen some talk in the news lately about new recommendations for when to start feeding babies solid food. Most of the parents I work with aren't sure about which guidelines to follow.
Should they be offering food at 4 months, or holding out until 6 months? Should they offer foods like peanuts and eggs from the beginning, or delay these until the baby is older? Should they offer single foods or mixed foods? It can be so confusing!
So, at what age should you give your baby their first taste of food?
The clear answer is DEFINITELY not before four months. The exact age though depends on your child. The worldwide recommendations suggest the closer to 6 months the better. This allows for a longer period of exclusive breastfeeding, which has long-lasting protective effects for your child's health as well as their long-term weight management.
On the other hand, the recommendations from allergy groups suggest a starting age of somewhere between 4 and 6 months. This allows for enough time to expose children to allergenic foods before their first birthday, which looks to be helpful in the prevention of food allergies.
So what is the ideal age then?
I would say that you need to look for signs in your own child, and consider their developmental readiness.
Firstly- think about physical signs. Before your child is ready to eat solid foods they need to be able to:
- hold their own head up
- sit up without support
- open their mouth for food
- accept food into their mouth without pushing their tongue out
- reach out for your food
- show an interest in what you're eating
These are the best indicators of when to introduce foods to your child.
For most children, these physical signs occur at about 6 months of age. For some kids, this is slightly earlier, but solid foods should never be offered before 4 months of age.
Now, what about allergy prevention? This is the biggest change to advice that was previously given, and might be different to what you did if you have older children.
The guidelines for preventing allergies are still being fully investigated, but the current evidence does suggest that early and frequent exposure to allergenic foods is helpful. Allergenic foods include egg, peanut, wheat, fish, shellfish, other nuts, soy and milk. This means offering these foods to your baby before their first birthday, and including them regularly in your family's diet.
In addition, aim to offer cooked egg before 8 months of age and peanuts before 12 months. This is based on the most recent evidence available, and you can read more about the guidelines here if you are interested. Again, it's important to keep offering these foods regularly after the first offering to maximise your chances of preventing a food allergy. At the beginning it can be helpful to introduce these foods separately, so if your baby does react to them, you can identify the trigger.
If your baby is approaching 6 months of age, then there are fun, foodie times ahead for you both. Remember that these first exposures to food shape your need to be positive, and directed by your baby rather than by you. Respect the cues your baby displays, and never force or pressure them to eat solid food. If you feel worried about introduction to solids, then consider making an appointment with Dr Kyla Smith, Paediatric Dietitian. Home-visits are available in Perth, WA. Skype and email consults are also available.
*if your child has an existing or diagnosed allergy, then the treatment for this involves complete avoidance of all sources of this food.
**if your baby is nearing 7 months and has no interest in eating solid foods the please get in touch for an appointment, or contact your child health nurse for advice. Remember to never force your child to eat solid food and respect their cues if they reject the food you offer.