7 Myths About How To Know If Your Baby is Ready for Solids
There are many signs to watch for that your baby is ready to start solids. And you can read about them in this previous post - 5 True Signs That Your Baby Is Ready For Solids. But there are also many myths and outdated information regarding how to tell if a baby is ready for solids that can confuse some parents. Let’s debunk some of those myths and make things clear about what to watch for to see if your baby is ready to start solids.
DISCLAIMER: Each child has their own development timeline and specific needs. The content below is general information and for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional one-on-one advice. You are responsible for supervising your child’s health and for evaluating the appropriateness of the information below for your child. Please consult your healthcare provider regarding support or advice for your child's well being and health. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here.
Myth #1: Waking at night
Babies wake at night for all sorts of reasons, and there is no evidence that giving them solid food solves the problem. If they are genuinely hungry, babies under six months need to be offered more breast milk (or formula, if they are formula-fed), not solids.
Myth #2: Baby’s weight has reached a “magic” number
Many parents hear that if a baby has doubled their birth weight, or if they weigh more than 14 pounds (6.4 kg), it’s time to start solid foods. But, just because your baby achieves “x” number of pounds, or has doubled birth weight, (or however much your baby weighs) does not mean that they are automatically ready for solids – particularly if your baby is under 6 months. It’s the maturity of the digestive tract and baby’s developmental readiness that makes the difference, not baby’s weight.
>>Download the FREE Quick-Start Guide to Solids to learn WHEN, HOW, and WHAT to feed your baby when starting solids.
Myth #3: Weight gain slows slightly
Research has shown this is something that normally happens at around four months, especially in breastfed babies. It’s not a sign that they need solid food. The breastfed babies are still gaining weight, but not as quickly as they were in those early months. The rate slows even more during the second half of the first year as babies become more active. Formula-fed babies tend to gain weight at a more consistent rate throughout the year. There is some slowing, but not as much as for breastfed babies.
Until recently, the growth charts used by most North American doctors were based primarily on formula-fed babies. The World Health Organization (WHO) came to the rescue by doing a large study with groups of babies from several countries around the world. Their study included only breastfed babies who started solid foods at the recommended 6 months. The new curves on the graph flattened out by around 4 months and had a lower average weight at 1 year. This growth pattern is linked to better overall health and lower rates of excess weight and obesity later in life.
If your baby is breastfeeding and your doctor suggests that she might need solid foods to “get her back on the curve,” you can ask whether the WHO growth charts are being used. If not, ask your doctor to use them instead to get a better assessment.
Myth #4: Small baby
If a small baby is undernourished (rather than being genetically destined to be small), they need nutrient-rich breast milk or formula to help them grow, not solids. Studies have shown that for babies under six months, solids tend to replace breast milk or formula in a baby’s diet – they do not add to the baby's total intake (WHO 2003,Cohen 1994, Dewey 1999). So starting solids early because your baby is small will probably reduce (instead of increase) the amount of milk and calories that your baby is getting overall which will not help baby’s weight gain.
You can give your baby a safe start to solid foods! This on-demand workshop will provide you with the knowledge and confidence you need to wean well.
Myth #5: Big baby
A big baby’s size may be due to their genetic makeup, or, if they are formula-fed, it may be because they are having more milk than they need. The digestive and immune systems of a baby are no more ready for solids because the baby is large. The link between weight and starting solids dates from the 1950s, when it was believed babies needed solid food when they doubled their birth weight or reached 14 pounds. Remember, it’s the maturity of the digestive tract and baby’s developmental readiness that makes the difference, not baby’s weight or size.
Myth #6: Teething
Sometimes people tell parents that if their babies are getting teeth, it’s time to start “real food.” The behaviors common with teething—chewing on fingers and toys or fussing during feedings—can also be interpreted as the baby being ready for solid foods. The problem with using the arrival of teeth as a guideline is that some babies are born with teeth already in their mouths, and other babies don’t get them until they are more than 1 year old. This makes them a pretty unreliable gauge for starting solids.
If my baby doesn’t have teeth at 6 or 7 months, will they be able to manage eating finger foods? How can they chew or bite without teeth? Parents sometimes worry about this when deciding whether to use the baby-led approach. Fortunately, babies are very capable of gumming reasonably soft foods enough to swallow them. So babies don’t need to have teeth to start eating solids, but teething alone isn’t an accurate sign that a baby is ready for solids either. Always look for the true signs of readiness for solids - 5 True Signs That Your Baby Is Ready For Solids.
Myth #7: There is not enough iron in breast milk
An additional reason given for starting solids is the “lack of iron in breast milk.” Breast milk does have lower iron levels than formula, but the iron in breast milk is more readily absorbed by the baby’s gut than the iron in formula. At some point after the first 6 months, babies will require an additional source of iron other than mother’s milk. This can most often be obtained through small amounts of solid food. But rest assured that breast milk can provide all the iron most babies need during their first six months of life (note that this might not be true for premature babies or babies born to an anemic mother, so consult with your provider if this applies to your baby).
Move Forward with Confident and Joyful Feeding
There are many myths and outdated information regarding readiness for solids out there which can be really confusing. The fact that a baby has reached a certain weight, that the baby is too small or too big, or is teething, or isn’t sleeping through the night yet are not indications that they are ready for solids. Also, the fact that breast milk has less iron than formula is not a sign of readiness either.
When deciding if it's time to start solids with your little one, make sure you stick with the true signs of readiness - baby is around 6 months, can sit up with minimal help, has lost tongue thrust reflex, brings toys to mouth, and is showing interest in food.
Happy Eating & Feeding,
Looking for more resources to help you raise a healthy and happy little eater? Try our FREE FOOD LIBRARY for inspiration of first foods to offer to your baby!
As always, discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider. This post and this site is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. The materials and services provided by this site are for informational purposes only.
Cohen, R., Brown, K., Dewey, K., Canahuati, J., & Landa Rivera, L. (1994). Effects of age of introduction of complementary foods on infant breast milk intake, total energy intake, and growth: a randomised intervention study in Honduras. The Lancet, 344(8918), 288–293. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(94)91337-4
Dewey, K. G., Cohen, R. J., Brown, K. H., & Rivera, L. L. (1999). Age of introduction of complementary foods and growth of term, low-birth-weight, breast-fed infants: a randomized intervention study in Honduras. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 69(4), 679–686. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/69.4.679