Friday, June 25, 2010

Baby-Led Eating part 1: when to start solids

The standard advice I've heard is that babies can start eating solid foods (or, anything aside from breastmilk) at around 4-6 months.
In my experience, babies all learn to crawl on their own schedule. They all get teeth on their own schedule. They all start talking on their own schedule. Therefore, I think it's more than a little silly to presume that they are all ready to start eating solid foods at the same time.
So I throw any and all age recommendations out the window, and watch for readiness signs instead. What do I watch for?
  • Grabbing at other people's food--seriously, why would you force a baby to eat food if he wasn't interested in it yet? (Watching other people eat--as in watching the fork go back and forth from plate to mouth and back--is a prequel to grabbing, and certainly shows interest, but I wait for the actual grabbing)
  • Eruption of teeth (or obvious signs that teeth are very close to coming in)
  • Sitting up independently (or fairly independently--the ability to support his own weight and balance himself is the point, so that he doesn't collapse on himself and choke)
  • Picking things up and putting them in his own mouth (it doesn't have to be the "pincer grasp" per se, just the eye-hand-coordination of picking something up and getting it where he wants it)
If a baby is doing these things, then he's physically ready to eat solid foods. Bear first grabbed something from my hand at 5 1/2 months, but then after a couple of (summertime) months of nibbling on fruits, he went back to almost exclusively breastfeeding until he was 8 or 9 months. Even then, he typically consumed just a few bites a day of solids until after his first birthday. He loved nursing, and wasn't fond of solids. I frequently finger-fed him, but almost never spoon-fed him because by the time he was interested in foods he was old enough that he fed himself quite efficiently. Eagle, on the other hand, was showing all the signs (even the eye-hand coordination) before 5 months, so I started giving him little nibbles, and by the time he reached the 6 month mark he was eating lots of food. By 7 months he is snarfing down several ounces of baby food at a sitting. He only has two teeth and so I am relying on a lot of the mashed foods--meaning that I'm spoon-feeding as well as finger-feeding him. I'm just following his lead (if I stop spooning the food in--to get a bite of my own for example--he will grab the bowl if he can reach it and pull it to his face and start gnawing on it!) he really loves his solids.
Eagle, with remnants of dinner on his face...mmmmm

I stand by my feeling that "food is for fun until they are one," meaning that they can eat as little (or as much) solid food as they want, but this is an age for exploration of solids, rather than seeking full nourishment from them. I will continue to breastfeed on demand and rely on that as the primary source of nutrition.

Stay tuned for part 2, what to feed the kiddo!

1 comment:

Lessa said...

Thank you so much for this post! I have a five month old daughter and was having such a debate about when to start solids. She was showing all the signs of readiness you described in this post, so I didn't know if I should start her or wait until at least 6 months. Just a couple of days ago, I decided to try some pureed sweet potatoes and she was in HEAVEN. It showed me that indeed, she was ready. It helped me decide to worry much less about age and more about baby's individual development. It's nice to know I'm not alone :)

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