The World Health Organization, Canadian Pediatric Society, and American Academy of Physicians all recommend breastfeeding/formula feeding exclusively until 6 months of age. After that, solids can be introduced. However, up until a year of age the baby should always be filling up on their milk first and then eating solids, because at this age solids are not about nutrition, it is about discovering textures and tastes.
It is important to wait the full 6 months before introducing solids as starting early can wreak havoc on a baby’s digestive system. It has been linked to diabetes, obesity, crohn’s disease, celiac disease, allergies, and other digestive problems. Solids is not a “milestone to be reached”, and a baby’s gastrointestinal tract is not like the Musculoskeletal tract, the time frame for development will not vary baby to baby. That is why it is so important to wait until a child is at least 6 months old before starting solid food. If you consider the rampant GI issues in our population today, it is easy to understand the important of waiting, to help prevent these issues from taking hold in your child.
Signs that indicate baby is developmentally ready for solids include:
- Baby can sit up well without support.
- Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex and does not automatically push solids out of his mouth with his tongue.
- Baby is ready and willing to chew.
- Baby is developing a “pincer” grasp, where he picks up food or other objects between thumb and forefinger. Using the fingers and scraping the food into the palm of the hand (palmar grasp) does not substitute for pincer grasp development.
- Baby is eager to participate in mealtime and may try to grab food and put it in his mouth.
The important thing to remember with BLW is your baby sits at the dinner table with the family and gets to try bits and pieces of what is for dinner. Allow the child to decide for themselves when they are finished eating and what food they want to try. This allows a child to learn about portion control (only eating until they feel full) and the types of food they enjoy. As well, babies do not need teeth, you will be amazed at their ability to gum and suck on food. Finally, there is a difference between choking and gagging. A baby’s gag reflex is super close to the front of their mouth, and this will help them cough anything up that may potentially go down the wrong way, long before they would actually choke on it. The sound of a baby gagging is nothing to be alarmed about, it is your child learning how to deal with food in their mouth, and how to chew it. However, even though gagging is a normal part of BLW, it is important never to leave your child alone while they are eating in case it does progress to choking. Furthermore, I would (as any parent should) invest in a pediatric CPR course for safety’s sake.
This is an example of gagging during a baby led weaning experience. This gagging is PERFECTLY NORMAL because it's just their body learning to eat and digest food. He is enjoying some homemade chicken stew at 8 months old.
What are some good first foods I can offer?