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When Should My Baby Start Solids?

Affiliate Disclosure | in Motherhood | by | with 143 Comments

I Deleted A Friend’s Facebook Comment Yesterday

To be frank, sometimes I am a chicken. I want to hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but she wanted to know what I thought of the post, Why Start Solids at 4-6 Months”, where Cheeselave writes:

“Around the age of 4 to 6 months, supplementation from solid foods is necessary, as breast milk does not contain specific nutrients that are needed by the baby by the time he reaches 4-6 months old.”

As you can imagine, not a lot of Kumbaya going on over on that post. The two nutrients that Ann Marie mentions are iron and zinc. So – because I immediately regretted deleting the post and will not do it again – the big question we’re going to tackle today is: Is breastmilk enough for the 4-6 month old? Okay then, let’s jump in!

But First . . .

I’d like to say that Ann Marie and I are friends and she saw the nuts and bolts of this post before it went live. No drama here. In fact, I’m pretty sure she will hold my hand and sing Kumbaya! Now let’s get started . . .

In her book Real Food for Mother & Baby Nina Planck says:

 “Your milk, and the milk of all mammals, lacks iron. In addition to being iron-poor, milk also contains lactoferrin, which ties up any random iron floating about. At first glance, this seems like an error, given that all living things need iron. With such a firm hand limiting the availability of iron to the nursling we must suspect a deliberate strategy on nature’s part.

Sure enough, there is logic to the missing iron. E. coli, the most common source of infant diarrhea in all species, depends on iron, as do other pathogens. As mentioned in the discussion of prenatal iron supplements, sequestering iron – keeping it out of the way of hungry microbes – is the body’s response to infection.

 A low-iron diet protects newborns from iron-loving microbes. As iron expert Sharon Moalem described it to me, lactoferrin is like an armored truck: it transports iron safely to its destination, protecting it from marauding bacteria. Breast milk, in other words, is iron-poor by design. What iron it contains is easily absorbed by your baby.”

But That’s About Newborns!!!

What about as baby gets to the 4-6 month range? Well, studies show that breast milk changes composition over time to meet the varied nutritional demands of infants/babies/toddlers. For example, milk from women who have been nursing longer than one year has a substantially higher fat content.¹ Around 4-6 months  the iron content of breast milk remains low. So that means babies must not need it at that particular stage in development, right?

Not so fast.

According to Dr. Nancy Krebs, their iron and zinc needs do increase at this stage. But I wonder, does the fact that breast milk continues to be iron-poor tell us something about how things are supposed to go here? I think so.

Babies are ready for more “tummy time” around 4 months and start crawling around 6-8 months. This means that the time they begin to need more iron **just happens** to coincide with when they will be coming into contact with the ground more. Before the last few hundred years that would have meant coming into contact with dirt, which contains . . . IRON and ZINC!! (Or at least it should . . . modern farming practices, ugh!) So babies poke around in it and then suck on their fingers . . . voila! Iron goals attained. As a bonus, soil contains beneficial bacteria that trigger the release of serotonin, train the immune system and benefit digestion.

I believe that breast milk composition reflects an innate understanding of how this process is supposed to unfold. Kinda takes the “I Make Milk – What’s Your Superpower?” saying to a whole new level, huh?

Of course, in addition to our sterile modern environments there is one more obstacle to making sure babies have adequate iron stores: immediate cord clamping after birth. According to the British Medical Journal, waiting for at least three minutes to clamp the umbilical cord following birth improves a baby’s iron levels at four months. Children whose healthcare providers wait to cut the cord experience numerous benefits, including an infusion of and additional 27-47 mg of iron and a blood volume increase of 25-40% over babies whose cords were cut right away. ²

So What Does This Mean For Baby’s First Foods?

Personally, I believe it means we should interfere less and trust more when it comes to birth, breastfeeding, and weaning. We should eat nutrient rich diets – the idea that baby “gets all they need” despite bad food choices is pure hooey – and introduce our babies to nutrient foods when they are ready.

So what does this look like? Although spoon feeding has become accepted method for introducing solids, a new approach is gaining in popularity that deserves attention. Baby Led Weaning encourages parents to skip the spoon and let babies feed themselves. Although I don’t agree with the nutritional advice in their book, authors Gill Rapley and Tracy Murkett do make a compelling argument that babies don’t learn the proper swallowing/gag reflex if there are fed primarily by a spoon. In addition, there is the risk of overeating when another person is in control.

 Many mamas worry that their baby or child isn’t eating enough. Food is intrinsically linked with nurturing and love: we all want to show our babies how much we love them and feeding them is one way to do this. At the same time, we can feel a sense of rejection when our child turns down the food we have prepared for them. These emotions, combined with unrealistic expectations of how much food babies should eat, meant that many babies – and older children – are regularly persuaded to eat more than they need. This can mean that the child simply learns to overeat or, in extreme cases, it can lead to problems such as food refusal or phobias; either way, the development of normal appetite control is at risk.

Persuading young babies to eat food they don’t want is especially easy to do if they are spoon-fed, Babies who are allowed to feed themselves will naturally manage their own intake – they simply stop eating when they are full.”14

In addition, spoon feeding can “encourage babies to eat more quickly than they would do naturally, interfering with the sensation that tells them when they have had enough. Eating too fast is another food behavior that has been linked with obesity in adults and children.”


My Experience

Katie & Her Bucket ‘O Dirt

It is often said that many breastfed babies mostly taste and explore (aka play with) foods until 8-15 months. That is my experience with my own children. Neither of them expressed the slightest interest in food at 4-6 months, so instead of trying to coax them to eat I just bought microbe rich dirt from my local organic supplier and let them play in it. It was my way of getting them iron/zinc in a way that was natural.

No baby should be force-fed at 4-6 months, but of course this is not what the Weston A. Price Foundation is saying. They encourage parents to watch for signs of readiness, etc. Mine were not ready so I found another way. Other moms in my circle have shared that their babies reached for food very early. As long as low milk supply due to breastfeeding problems (like Micah’s tongue tie) has been ruled out I say go for it!

My favorite “first food” is fermented cod liver oil rubbed on a baby’s bum. This is, of course, recommended by the Weston A. Price Foundation. According to Dr. Campbell-McBride the skin will only absorb whatever vitamin A & D it needs from cod liver oil so I don’t worry about giving too much. The other two foods recommended are egg yolk (which is extremely close to breast milk in terms of digestibility and nutrient profile) and shaved raw liver (a nutrient dense superfood).

Ironically, neither of these were Micah’s first foods. Each baby has internal wisdom about what their body needs. We were drinking a lot of bone broth at the time and that is what he showed interest in, so that’s what we went with. Does that mean any food is acceptable? Eh, I don’t think so. I felt comfortable offering broth because Dr. Campbell-McBride recommends it as a first food to help seal the leaky gut.

What’s That, You Ask?

Basically, babies are born with naturally leaky guts, meaning that there are little gaps in the gut lining. This is a very good thing because it allows the antibodies from breast milk to flow freely into the bloodstream, providing baby with natural immunities to bacteria and viruses. Also, as babies put things in their mouths the bacteria and/or viruses travel through the digestive tract and into the bloodstream, which is like a mini-training exercise for baby’s immune system.

So leaky gut is good for babies, but only to start! You REALLY want those gaps to seal up before introducing solids in earnest. Here’s why:

A huge glob of proteins – whether they be from rice, or egg, or banana – that enter the bloodstream in an undigested state could be recognized as an invader by baby’s immunonaive system. What does it do? Fight, of course! Baby’s body will create antibodies to combat the invader – i.e. the food. It’s a simple mistake for an immature immune system to make, but it has lifelong consequences. The body will learn to recognize the food as an enemy and will behave accordingly. There’s no magic date the gut seals, but for most babies it seems to be around six months. However, for babies fed commercial formula, the closure often takes longer or doesn’t happen at all.³

Did That Sound Scary?

I’m not trying to sensationalize fears about introducing foods too early. Unless a family has a history of allergies I think it’s really a non-issue with the Baby Led Weaning approach. Historically children have put ALL KINDS of things in their mouths – it is natures way of priming their immune system. When a baby chooses to taste something here and there of their own volition it’s a gradual process. That’s a totally different picture than coaxing heaping spoonfuls into the mouth of a little one. So in my opinion there’s no need to fear early solids any more than you would fear your baby gnawing on a stick or leaf. As long as they are at the developmental age where they can sit up and put things in their mouths I think it’s fine.

Kristen of Food Renegade said it best in a comment she left on this fabulous post from Nourishing Our Children.

“In my mind, it’s kinda like the issue of when to introduce grains. Babies don’t produce pancreatic amylase (the enzyme needed to digest grains) until they’re at least a year old, sometimes two! So, how can a momma know when to introduce properly prepared grains? When her baby’s molars come in! That’s usually at the same time that they start producing pancreatic amylase. In other words, there are visible, outward signs of baby’s internal digestive development.

In the same way, babies have outward, visible signs of being ready to eat solids — namely sitting up on their own, developing the pincer grasp, and losing the tongue reflex that pushes food out of the mouth. (Essentially, when they are able to feed themselves.) For both of my children, this happened somewhere between 6 to 8 months old. They weren’t “late bloomers” or anything of the sort, this is just how their little bodies grew. I’ve met 4 months old that could do all these things, and I totally marveled since it was so outside my own experience.”

And In Case You’re Wondering . . .

I did spoon feed Micah the broth. Hypocritical, I know! But from that point forward I ditched the spoon and let him eat what he was interested in, which happened to be meat/liver and vegetable stews prepared in digestion enhancing broth. He made a huge mess, but letting babies eat with their hands is very helpful for developing manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination. And besides, it doesn’t matter how much they get in their mouths at first. The goal is to help them explore new tastes in a fun and exciting way so they’ll become adventurous eaters. So yeah, let’s focus on our babies instead of timetables, offer but don’t pressure, and relax!

What do YOU think???


Questions about baby nutrition? Check out my new ebook, Nourished Baby!



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143 Responses to When Should My Baby Start Solids?

  1. Colleen says:

    HELP! i messed up, big time. I came here looking to find some good recipes for my 10 month old, because, surprise surprise, she is refusing food. Probably because i was shoveling food in her face with a spoon franticly so she could get the iron she needed 😉

    Do you have any suggestions to help her get back on track? How much SHOULD she be eating right now?She pretty much eats on her own, and, i dont give her many grains or carbs, but she has stopped eating veggies..I dont know how to help her like them again. So in the meantime, i blend them up and spoon feed them to her when she is distracted. She loves avocado. thats pretty much all she eats. I am going to be purchasing your book soon.

    I just want to do whats best for her and i feel i messed up, royally.

    • Anne says:

      Hi Colleen,
      I have a 13 month old and believe me, food has been a big stressor for me. I want everything that goes in her to be perfectly healthy. But I have learned that her body knows what she wants. I would say trust your baby. If she doesn’t feel like veggies one week don’t force it. My rule is I always offer it and if she gets in a rut of eating the same thing over and over again I try to get creative and think of new things to offer her. Also remember that she is just 10 months old and will be developing her likes and dislikes overtime. Just because she doesn’t want a veggie today doesn’t mean she will be a veggie hater for life. You are doing a great job! Our bodies are strong and bounce back quickly from any harm done when corrections are made. Your baby is healthy and well and lucky to have you as her mama!

  2. Floor Food | Colleen's Life says:

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  7. joyce wang says:

    “Many babies worry that their baby or child isn’t eating enough.”

    I’m sorry but when i see errors like this and knowing that this supposedly has been peer reviewed by Anne Marie i wonder if it’s really true

    • Daniel Dessinger says:

      @Joyce Thanks for finding the typo! Fixed! I don’t know why you would assume that any blog post here has been peer reviewed by any other blogger. This simply isn’t the case. We do not submit blog posts to anyone prior to publishing for peer review unless it is has been sponsored by a brand we know and trust.

  8. joyce wang says:

    also, the baby weaning method you are suggesting….i have always wondered, wouldn’t that be encouraging food wasting? because they do waste a lot of food if you let them feed themselves with hands, what do you suggest teaching them to feed themselves while teaching them food is so precious that we should not waste it?

  9. Why Kids (and Adults) Need Dirt - Wellness Mama says:

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  11. Julia says:

    I loved the article, thank you. I have a question – when is the right age to start feeding the dirt to the baby? Is it too late to “feed” it to 4yo? :)
    My children have multiple food allergies and we are following GAPS diet, but I was thinking if there is something else could be done.

  12. mattie says:

    i know this is an older article — but what type of broth do you make? is it a regular broth recipe with carrots/celery onion and garlic and thyme ? or is it simply bones and water?
    i guess i am asking because so far we have not introduced any of those other foods – wondering if that made a difference in micha’s first food?
    thanks in advance! love your work!

  13. Rhonda Argenbright says:

    I would like obtain to use the above image of gut permeability for a poster presentation and article in my hospital publication.
    Thank you!

  14. Lauren says:

    This maybe a stupid question, but my almost 6 month old had a couple of bits of carrot that was cooked in broth in the crockpot, but pooped out one of those bits whole. Should I be worried that another little piece may have slipped out of his little leaky gut? Should I worry he might become allergic to carrots? Sorry I’m a first time mom and have no clue what I’m doing when it comes to baby led weaning! :)

    • Heather says:

      I personally wouldn’t be worried if that was the only digestive issue I observed. Babies often pass things through whole because their little digestive systems aren’t efficient at breaking them down yet. I understand your concern that a smaller undigested amount would pass through. Based on what I’ve read, it’s possible, but it’s not necessarily a sign of dysfunction IMO. Of course, I’m not a doctor and this is not medical advice. I’m just a mom sharing my experience – all of my kids had pieces of random stuff come through undigested from time to time :)

  15. Ashley says:

    Great article! Thank you!
    My baby is 4.5 months old. At her 4 month doctor appointment her doctor said to start supplementing iron. I’ve read about open gut and was very concerned about introducing iron before 6 mo. My baby is exclusively breastfed. She was born small (5.3 lbs) via c-section. So unfortunately, no delayed cord clamping. On top of those to things I’m anemic. I’ve been searching for information on whither it’s better to introduce iron early, although there is a reason for breast milk to be low in iron, my baby most likely hasn’t been getting enough iron (the little bit which is usually in breast milk) due to my anemia. I would be interested if you found any additional information about supplementing iron in a situation as mine. I haven’t supplemented any iron yet. I’m so back and forth (lesser of the two evils…disrupt the open gut or go without having (enough) iron which is important for brain development). I also haven’t been able to find a good iron supplement without all the additives. :(

  16. Melissa says:

    So in addition to allowing the babies to play in dirt, what other alternatives would you suggest for iron supplementing?

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