Are there risks to introducing solid foods early?

Baby’s gut is not ready for solid food before 6 months

When babies are born, their gut is sterile. They do not yet have bacterial colonization in their gut to help with breaking down food, vitamin production or gas production to propel stool through the gut. As the baby drinks breast milk or formula, the gut slowly colonizes healthy bacteria to help with digestion and vitamin production. This colonization can create gassiness in the beginning causing some mild discomfort in some infants while other experience colic.

Breast milk and formula are easily digested foods that help this natural process occur. Introducing solid foods before the gut is appropriately colonized and ready to process more complex foods can create increased gassiness, constipation, and discomfort.

Babies start to become interested in what parents are doing, including eating, around 4 month of age. This happens because babies’ eyesight is better, they are more social, and are awake for more time during the day. It is important that parents do not mistake this natural interest in his or her surroundings as a petition for solid food. To allow young infants to participate at meal times, breastfeed or formula feed just before the family meal to alleviate hunger. Then allow them to sit at or near the table to explore the sights, sounds, and smells of mealtime.

At 6 months of age the gut is ready and the baby’s motor skills are right

By 6 months infants have the motor skills for solid foods. They are able to sit up, hold their head up, and control their mouth and tongue movements to effectively move food from the front of their mouth to the back for swallowing. Additionally, they fully understand that their hands are under their own control and can begin to practice the complicated coordination of picking up food from a tray and transferring to their mouth.

Lastly, no research has confirmed that feeding infants solid foods prior to 6 months helps a baby “sleep through the night.” Sleeping through the night is a learned behavior. Infants must practice self-soothing to sleep longer. Filling their belly with food will not necessarily increase night sleep. The good news is that if foods are introduced before 6 months, there is no link to increased childhood obesity, as previously believed.

The best practice is to exclusively breastfeed or formula feed until 6 months of age. At that time, the baby’s gut is ready to digest and expel the more complex nature of solid foods as well as being developmentally ready with sufficient motor skills to make eating safe.

Parents can support healthy growth and development of their infant through good nutrition that starts in infancy. Recognizing infant nutritional needs, as well as not confusing natural development for signs of hunger, and making sure the infant has mastered necessary motor skills prior to introducing solid foods will make the experience healthy and happy for both baby and parents.

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