Q. My four-month-old daughter is physically ready to start eating solid foods but breastfeeding is still going well and I think I want to delay the introduction of solids a little longer. Is there any advantage or disadvantage to waiting a little longer? How do I know when I should start feeding them real food?
A. There are so many variables when it comes to breastfeeding. Different problems can occur for babies and for mothers so individual assessments are often required regarding the introduction of solid foods if breastfeeding is not going well. If however, breastfeeding has been going well for you and your child, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and homoeopathist, Sara Chana, says that four and a half months is way too early.
In Chana’s experience, parents and pediatricians often rush the introduction of solid foods because they’re worried about the appropriate weight gain or getting the right nutrients. In her twenty years as a lactation consultant and working with thousands of babies, she usually recommends delaying solids until around nine months (unless there are complications with breastfeeding).
“Each person’s individual and I hate generalizing but if I’m forced to generalize, I would say feed a child when they can sit up straight on their own and when they have between four and eight teeth,” explains Chana. The presence of teeth shows that the child is able to eat and digest solid foods properly, according to Chana.
According to Dr. Jack Newman MD, IBCLC, many babies can grow properly and get all of their essential nutrients exclusively from breastfeeding until they’re a year old so there is no reason to rush them onto solids. Dr. Newman agrees with Chana in that parents shouldn’t introduce solids until their child is ready. It can be difficult to tell when your child is ready, because babies often go through a phase of oral curiosity around six or seven months. During this phase, babies will put anything and everything in their mouths and parents can mistake this for hunger. A good test of whether or not your child is ready or interested in solids is if they can differentiate between a dirty shoe and a cracker; “you’d be surprised how many times they choose the shoe,” says Chana. Chana also explains that one of breastfeeding mothers’ most common mistakes is thinking that their older baby (around six or seven months) is not getting enough milk. More often than not, they are getting enough, they are just so proficient at feeding and it happens so quickly, that mothers assume their child isn’t getting any milk.
Breastfeeding and weaning is an individual, case-by-case issue so do what feels right for you and your child. It can be helpful to consult with a lactation consultant if you have concerns.