Jill Castle, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and childhood nutrition expert. She is co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.
At 4 months, 3 weeks old, your baby is growing quickly, which may make you wonder if you’re providing the right amount of nourishment. Starting solids can vary depending on child, parent, and everything in between. But is there an optimal time to start solids for your little one? Bundoo Pediatric Nutritionist Jill Castle explains the best way for you to tell when your little one is ready for solids and how to get started.
Bundoo: It seems there are lots of conflicting recommendations for when to start solid foods. When do you usually recommend starting solids?
Jill Castle: I follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of starting solids at 6 months. This is a recommendation for all babies, whether they are breastfed or drinking formula from a bottle. Waiting until 6 months assures baby is developmentally ready, from head control to digestive capabilities. However, some babies may show signs of readiness for solids just before 6 months. Check with your pediatrician if you’re thinking about starting earlier.
What’s the biggest mistake you see parents making when they start their babies on solids?
I see several mistakes, actually. For one, skipping cereal can be a mistake if baby doesn’t get a substitute iron source, such as pureed meat. Another mistake is starting too early with solids, which has been linked to the development of obesity later on. Yet another mistake involves feeding a baby fruits and vegetables but forgetting about grains, protein sources, and healthy fats. All food groups play a role in the health and development of babies, so offering all of them throughout the course of the first year is important. In other words, no skipping food groups!
What signals will a baby typically give to show that he or she is not actually ready to start on solids? How can a parent tell these apart from typical hesitancy to try something new?
A baby is not ready to start solids if he or she is under 4 months of age, cannot hold his or her head up, cannot sit up alone (without support), and does not show interest in food. Often, babies will make a face when they taste or experience the texture of a new food. This is a normal response, and shouldn’t be misinterpreted as a dislike of food. Hesitancy with new foods, or food neophobia, may set in around 2-3 years old, when picky eating typically begins.
You’re a big advocate of exposing babies to lots of different tastes and textures. When should that ideally begin? From the very beginning, or is it better to stick with the basic grain cereal for a longer period?
In the first month or two, the goal is to have your baby experience the texture of solid food and learn to swallow it, which involves different mouth muscles than drinking a liquid. Once baby has tackled the early stages of eating solids, and has eaten and tolerated the basics (whole grain cereal, apple, banana, green beans, squash, etc.), the name of the game becomes food exposure. Varying the textures and flavors is important, and from 8-9 months on, most babies are ready for the adventure.