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Feeding 101: When to Introduce Solid Foods


By Graciela Wetzler, M.D.

My advice to parents who want to start their young infant on solid foods: Don't be in such a rush. Breast milk, supplemented by vitamin D and iron, and iron-fortified baby formulas provide all the necessary nutrients during the early months of life. So, despite advice from friends or family to give solids to your two month old, remember that there is no nutritional advantage to starting solids at that age. In fact, there may be some risks associated with starting solid foods prematurely.

Some infants may appear not to be satisfied by breast or bottle-feeding, especially those who have accelerated growth. It is as if they are always hungry and demanding, and this can be particularly upsetting to parents who are exhausted by sleepless nights and infants constantly sucking at the breast. For these infants, increase the volume and frequency of milk feedings since they may not yet be neurodevelopmentally prepared for the introduction of solid foods.

Young infants exhibit an "extrusion reflex" in which their tongue pushes away something placed in the mouth, and it is impossible to eat non-liquid foods until the infant loses this reflex. Parents who try to force a spoon into an infant's mouth are fighting a losing battle. When the child is able to sit in a receptive position for spoon-feeding - that is, keep his head and neck upright - he is considered neurodevelopmentally ready to "learn how to eat." Learning how to eat entails leaning forward and opening the mouth when hungry, swallowing the food, tasting the food and identifying flavors, and closing the mouth and pulling away when full. The baby's gastrointestinal system also needs time to develop the ability to digest and metabolize food. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the introduction of solid foods by four to six months, when these processes should be adequately developed.
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