It’s a very common recommendations….starting a baby on cereal before 6 months of age. There can be many reasons for this, and I’m not going through them all now, but two I do want to note.
Maybe it’s to help a baby sleep. It won’t. All babies sleep differently, putting cereal in their body won’t make them sleep longer, and their patterns fluctuate so often that it’s just a coincidence if it seems like it did help. And actually, babies aren’t suppose to sleep all night. We’ll talk about that in another post.
Maybe it’s to help a fussy baby with reflux. A lack of cereal is not a cause for reflux, so even if it does seem to help, it’s a patch and not actually addressing the cause, which we’ll talk about in another post too.
Our recommendation is to wait until ALL signs of readiness are present to start on solids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months, so we recommend they be at least 6 months old and they show all signs of readiness.
What we’re aiming for is that we don’t offer foods BEFORE the digestive system is ready for it, otherwise the stress placed on the digestive system can cause issues later on. Since it’s not so easy to take a look inside, we need to look for external clues that happen to appear in sync with digestive development.
Signs that your baby is ready:
1. Curiosity about food. She is watching you, grabbing at your food or even opening her mouth in hopes that you’ll divert your spoon from your mouth to theirs. This is obvious, but let me stress that it is NOT the sole indicator that your baby is ready for solids. So look the the rest too:
2. Head Control – can they hold their head up or does it flop after a limited amount of time?
3. Sitting with minimal support – your baby must be able to sit up and have the core strength to begin solids
4. Absent “extrusion reflex” This reflex exists as a protective mechanism to prevent choking, so that the tongue reflexively pushes anything in the mouth OUT. Once this reflex is integrated, your baby will then be able to move food to the back of his mouth and swallow it.
5. Do they have teeth? This is not often mentioned, but biologically makes the most sense. A baby’s mouth and digestive system are closely integrated developmentally. When a baby begins to produce digestive enzymes, they will develop the teeth needed to consume the foods for those enzymes. So once those teeth start popping through, then you can be sure your baby is ready to start taking bites out of soft foods.
So, before you begin your baby on solids, look for all of these signs. And if they’re all present, check out our post on choosing which foods first.