That infamous word – “should” – loaded with responsibility, implication, and guilt even…
As far as I can see with my limited years of parenting experience, the only thing we “should” do is love our children and respect them as human beings that deserve the very best of us as parents. We “should” act as examples for the way we want them to live as adults.
Which brings me to today’s topic:
When “should” you start feeding your baby solid food?
I was speaking to one of our alumni moms the other day. I am sharing the following information with her permission. She said, “It's a great topic and this way if other moms (or dads) are having the same concerns then they'll know they are not alone. “
Here is the situation: Their baby is seven months old and she hasn’t taken to solid food just yet.
So I started asking questions:
Q: What does she do when you offer her food?
A: She clamps her mouth or she turns away. If she does put it in her mouth, she usually spits it back out. Sometimes she actually swallows, but then it’s all thrown-up after several minutes.
Q: Do you think she is getting enough from your breast milk – does she continue to gain and thrive?
(My internal cheerleader – YES!! And then some – this baby is a healthy size, alert, observant; she interacts with the world around her and is just gorgeous!!)
Q: Why do you think you should start solids?
A1: The nurse at the pediatrician’s office told me if I wait, we might “miss the window”.
Q: Do you believe that?
A: No (To which I silently cheered inside – yeah, mom!!)
A2: We are going on vacation in a month and I want to be able to leave her with my mom so my husband and I could go out.
A3: We went to breakfast with some other moms the other day and there was a 5.5 month-old sitting up and eating breakfast!
A4: My grandmother wants to know what she’s eating if I’m not feeding her yet.
Look at the four answers I got to the “why do you think you should start solids” question. Do any of them involve the words “our baby is ready” in the answer? You are correct if you noticed that they do not.
This is the thing – when it comes to things like eating and sleeping, your child will do what their body needs. Here are the things I tried to convey to this mom to reassure her it was okay to listen to her baby’s cues:
1.) The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both state that the only thing a baby needs during their first six months of life is breastmilk. I have posted their official statements below if you are interested in the details. [See reference 1]
2.) Introducing solids before six months of age increases the likelihood of allergies. To quote from La Leche League, “If a baby has anything besides your milk before the lining of his intestines becomes pretty well sealed against allergens (allergy producers) at around six months…baby’s body reads them as invading forces and produces antibodies against them. Problems such as eczema can result.” 
In reading what The Womanly Art Of Breastfeeding had to say on the topic, they pointed out a third component to “why wait” until your baby asked for the food or accepts it willingly: enzymes. “Give baby something else before he starts producing adult-type enzymes at around six months, and you’re more likely to see upset tummies, diarrhea, smelly gas, and a baby who swallows food but can’t use it well. It might even come out in the diaper looking pretty much unchanged.” 
If you remember from the beginning of the post, this baby is already seven months old. So is mom doing her baby harm by not feeding her solids? The answer is no! She is being a smart mom. She is watching her baby’s cues and “listening” to what her baby is telling her – “I’m not ready yet”.
So, what if you start at six months and your baby says “blech”?
It’s okay! Remember when you were pregnant and your baby arrived when they were good and ready? The same holds true now…they still don’t have a PDA or a calendar that they live by. When your baby is physically ready, he or she will start putting food in their mouth and doing something productive with it.
There are nice ways to tell people why you are still breastfeeding instead of introducing solids besides, “Because you *should* be exclusively breastfeeding as long as possible, duh.” (There is that word again….)
Here are some ideas:
“ We decided to follow the WHO and AAP guidelines and hold off on solids.”
“This choice works for our family.”
“Feeding our baby upset their tummy so I am following his/her cues.
I am sure they will eat when they are good and ready.”
Think about it this way: When you are hungry, you go to the refrigerator or pantry to look for something to eat. If you have a healthy relationship with food and eating, then it is highly unlikely that you will deliberately refuse food when your body is telling you it’s time to eat.
The same holds true for your baby. If your baby is around you when you eat, he or she will eventually start reaching for the things that are on your plate or on the table. It’s not that they need or want to stop nursing that instant, it’s that their curiosity and their body are telling them it’s time to try something new. It’s part of the process as they move towards independence.
Now they may not eat what’s in their hands right away. Some babies will just touch and smell it at first. Maybe they will put their tongue out to test taste the food. Eventually, the food makes it into their mouth.
What if they don’t chew it and swallow it? That’s okay, too – when all the mechanics are ready and the digestive enzymes are ready to work in their body, you will see them start to swallow the food. Eventually, they will have a real appetite for eating.
The key is to remember that just like everything else they are doing this first year, eating is a learned, albeit necessary, behavior. If you want to teach your child to have a healthy relationship with food, then trust that they will eat when they are ready. Offer them unprocessed, nutritious food choices and allow them to eat what they want. If your baby is playing, sleeping, gaining weight and behaving as they normally do, then trust that between your milk and what they are eating from the table, they are getting enough.
You taught them a good habit by breastfeeding them and allowing them to nurse until they were full. This lesson carries on to the time when they are eating solids – they will never eat more than they need to feel satisfied. You are a good mom (or dad)!
For more reading:
Ask Dr. Sears – Why wait to start solids
La Leche League Solids FAQ
La Leche League – First Foods for Babies
 The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League International, 2010, page 246
World Health Organization statement on breastfeeding:
“Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continuously for up to two years of age or beyond.”
American Academy of Pediatrics statement on breastfeeding:
“Introduction of complementary feedings before six months of age generally does not increase total caloric intake or rate of growth and only substitutes foods that lack the protective components of human milk.”
 The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League International, 2010, page 249
 The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League International, 2010, page 249
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It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult her or his healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation. This blog contains information about our classes available in Chandler, AZ and Payson, AZ and is not the official website of The Bradley Method®. The views contained on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Bradley Method® or the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth®.