When should I start solids?
For most babies, the exciting time of starting solids is around 6 months of age. But before we use age as a single indicator to tell our baby is ready to start solids, there are a few important signs to look out for before starting. Let's look at the main signs of readiness and go through a checklist for your baby to see if they are ready to dive into the wonderful world of food.
When your baby is ready for solids, the main signs are:
- Stable head and neck control. No swaying or wobbling head and neck.
- Sit up with minimal support. This means your baby can sit in the highchair with a small cushion behind them or a rolled up towel at their side. Your baby doesn't have to be able to sit up on their own to start solids.
- Reduced or minimal tongue extrusion reflex. (also known as tongue thrust reflex). Most babies will still have some tongue extrusion up to 8 or 9 months. The tongue extrusion reflex refers to when you place something such as a spoon in your baby's mouth and they push it out with their tongue.
- Open their mouth to accept food and can pick up food and bring it to their mouth. This sign is important if you are doing baby led weaning.
The lesser points of readiness are:
- Interested in what you're eating.
- Reach out and grab the food you're eating.
- Gumming toys or anything else they can find.
When your baby is meeting the first set of signs, it means they're likely ready to start solids.
What does the evidence say?
The current Australian Infant feeding guidelines recommend around 6 months of age. The World Health Organisation recommends from 6 months of age and ASCIA (Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy) recommends starting solids around 6 months, but not before 4 months.
It is important to note that breastmilk or formula will meet your baby’s nutritional requirements up until 6 months of age. At 6 months, your baby’s requirements for critical nutrients such as iron will not be met through breastmilk or formula alone.
Hot tip: Introducing solids before your baby is ready won't help them sleep through the night.
I know this is such an exciting time as a parent to introduce your baby to food, but trust me, you don't want to have to start making food and cleaning up mess before you need to! Starting solids before your baby is showing the signs of readiness can potentially set you up for a frustrating time with solids. It’s never much fun when you try and get someone to do something they aren’t ready to do!
For most babies, they will show the signs of readiness and interest between four to six months.
“Read your baby and check for the signs of readiness to ensure you'll both start the solids journey in the best position possible.”
There are some risks associated if you start your baby too early or too late on solids (before observing the signs of readiness)
- Your baby may choke.
- Override hunger and fullness cues as babies often cannot signal no or turn their head away.
- Displace intake of breast milk or formula if starting solids too soon.
- Risk of damage to the feeding relationship between you and your baby. If you miss the hunger and fullness cues this may create a negative feeding experience for your baby.
- Disrupting digestion. Your baby's gut is usually ready by four months of age and not sooner.
- Compromising the health of your baby - potential growth faltering due to displacement of milk with less energy dense foods.
- There is a risk of nutrient deficiencies if starting too late (beyond 7 months), particularly iron deficiency.
- Miss the window of opportunity which is open from around 4 to 6 months and closes around 9 to 10 months.
- Delay texture progression of solids.
- Delay feeding milestones.
What if my baby is showing signs between 4 to 6 months?
You'll probably notice that your baby is starting to take interest in what you're eating from around 4 months. Although this sign may seem they are eager to start eating, this isn't a stand alone reason to offer your baby food. To help get your baby prepared for solids, you can do things such as:
- Offer your baby a spoon or open cup when you're eating dinner to introduce them to the idea of using utensils.
- Let your baby sit on your lap whilst eating a meal.
- Eating in front of your baby to model how to eat/chew.
- Preparing food in front of your baby.
- Placing toys slightly out of reach for them to reach and improve core strength.
- Give your baby spoons to play with to help them map their mouth.
- Practice sitting with support.
At around 4 months your baby might go through the 4 month sleep regression. During the fourth month of life your baby is going through a huge period of development. Their brain growth takes a huge leap which can lead to extra fussiness, milk feeding more than often and lots of night waking. There is a common belief from many parents that their baby is hungry and milk is not sustaining them. This regression is not caused by hunger and does not mean they are ready for solids.
Mum Bub Nutrition
Abby McLennan BSc, MHNutr baby and maternal nutritionist. public health nutritionist specialising in infant and maternal nutrition