So Tipat Chalav is now advising to give all babies tastes of food beginning at *4* *months*, because if we “wait” until 6 months some babies get more attached to the bottle and might resist integrating solids into their diet.Isn’t there some statistic about breastmilk-only for 6 months reducing chances of allergies?
There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the new Health Ministry guidelines about starting solids. The written statement makes it clear that starting at 4 months is optional, and should only involve tastes. But some parents are getting the message from Tipat Chalav, whether intentional or not, that they must start offering solids at 4 months. And the fact that tastes means less than a teaspoon throughout the day is not always mentioned.
There isn’t any harm in waiting a full six months before starting solids, although some babies may be ready a little earlier. On the other hand, it seems that offering solids at four months doesn’t increase the risk of allergies. The American Academy of Pediatrics examined the research and found:
There is also little evidence that delaying the timing of the introduction of complementary foods beyond 4 to 6 months of age prevents the occurrence of atopic disease. At present, there are insufficient data to document a protective effect of any dietary intervention beyond 4 to 6 months of age for the development of atopic disease.
There are still good reasons to wait a full six months, though. While tastes—an amount you can feed with your finger—aren’t risky, giving larger amounts too early can interfere with milk supply and growth. Babies don’t need anything else for about six months, and the nurse was misinformed. In fact, most babies are more willing to try solids at six months than at four. Artificially delaying solids can cause problems, as Shoshi Belkovitz explained in my interview with her at JewishMom.Com.
The Israeli health ministry changed its recommendations about when to start solids because of a couple of studies about gluten. Babies exposed to gluten between 4 and 7 months, and while they are still breastfeeding, may have a lower risk of developing celiac disease. Since more babies are still breastfeeding at 4 months than at 7, the health ministry decided to encourage tastes early. Further research is needed.
Contrary to popular belief, early solids won’t help babies sleep through the night. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, Fourth Edition, states that “according to well-defined studies, babies who receive solids before bedtime have the same sleep patterns as do babies who are not given solids.”
Most solids, like vegetables and soups, are relatively low in calories. Breastmilk is high in calories, so when a baby receives solids instead of nursing, they fill up his or her tiny stomach. The baby may fail to gain weight properly. Early solids have also been implicated as a risk factor for adult obesity.
So what is the bottom line? If parents want to offer tastes starting at four months, there isn’t evidence of great harm as long as the quantities remain small. But there is also no harm in waiting a full six months or even a little longer, keeping in mind that the middle of the first year is the age that most babies enjoy feeding themselves. That is also when they begin needing additional calories and minerals from solid foods.
Babies are developmentally ready for solids when the tongue-thrusting reflex disappears and they can sit up more or less without support. In the early months, their tongue fills up the oral cavity. As they get older their cheeks get thinner, their palate rises and there is more space for food. Teeth usually come in at about this age as well, although teeth aren’t necessary for starting solids.
There is no advantage to withholding solids from a healthy baby older than 6 or 7 months.
A friend of mine has a theory that we are seeing more eating disorders caused by delay of solids, because some parents today are not willing to spend the time it takes to encourage their kids to eat solids. Spoon-feeding takes time as does preparation of special foods. Because kids make a mess when they are learning to eat with their fingers or with a spoon, some parents prefer to add powdered cereals to a bottle of formula for as long as they can.
While I agree with a lazy approach to offering solids as readers describe in the comments, I don’t think the parents my friend is talking about would be willing to do it that way either.
See also my interview with speech therapist Shoshi Belkovich on starting solids at Jewish Mom.Com.
My series on Feeding Babies Frugally at Cooking Manager.