I recently had a conversation with a new mom about when to start solids. She was surprised to hear that I started Liam at 6 months with a wide range of foods (pretty much everything but honey, nuts, and shellfish!), and not 4 months with rice cereal only.
Current recommendations indicate that “breast milk or formula should be baby’s main source of nutrition until at least 6 months of age. While many pediatricians recommend starting solid foods sometime between 4 and six months of age, the earlier introduction of solid foods may have certain risk factors” (wholesomebabyfood.com).
There has been a large amount of research on this, and most health organizations have updated their recommendations; however, many health care providers and written materials are not up to date and give parents outdated guidelines to follow. My piece of advice is always to be informed about the risks and benefits of each decision when it comes to your child – If your doctors seems to be pushing an early introduction to solids and you think your child may not be fully ready yet, do not hesitate to ask the pediatrician to explain what he or she thinks the benefits of starting solids early are.
That being said, your baby may show signs that he/she is “ready” for solids between 4-8 months. A good piece of advice is to watch your baby, not the calendar. Don’t jump to conclusions because your child seems to have a larger appetite (growth spurts!) and pay attention to his/her hunger cues.
A few things to consider to be sure your child is ready for solids:
- The loss of tongue-thrust reflex (does not push the food back out)
- Your baby has an interest in table food
- Your baby is able to sit up unassisted
- Your baby is able to let you know when he or she is “full” (by turning away)
It is a myth that rice cereal will help your child sleep longer! In reality, “around the time parents begin to offer solids early is just about the time that an infant may be sleeping for longer periods at a time. This is a natural progression as an infant ages and matures and it oftentimes coincides with the addition of early solids. This coincidence perpetuates the dangerous myth that early offerings of solid foods will help an infant sleep ‘through the night’” (wholesomebabyfood.com). Even Gerber recommends against putting rice cereal in your baby’s bottle!
Ultimately, keep in mind that your child is getting all the important nutrients he/she needs from breastmilk and/or formula until one year of age. Solids are just “fun” for the first year!
Now. . .
First, the ingredients. Because, believe it or not, your baby isn’t just eating mashed up brown rice, here! Traditional rice cereal is made from white rice (not nutritious) and is fortified with synthetically produced vitamins like ferrous sulfate (iron), folic acid (vitamin B9), and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
Rice cereal is highly processed, converted into light flakes meant to be “instantly” ready for consumption. This “easy” consumption means the rice has been stripped of the little nutritive content it does have. The fact that it is fortified with synthetic vitamins and folic acid is not a good thing, either: these vitamins are hard to digest for our babies, but folic acid can be even more damaging. Folate is an essential nutrient, but folic acid is its synthetic replacement, commonly linked to thyroid damage and other issues.
Rice cereal is also fortified with iron, and although we can all agree it is a necessary nutrient (and low in our breastmilk), high levels of synthetic ferrous sulfate make it hard to digest and may lead to neurological issues later on in life.
Arsenic is naturally found in the ground and in our water, but can become concentrated due to conventional farming practices. When pesticides are used on fields, the runoff contaminates the soil and water with arsenic. This irrigation water then floods rice fields for extended periods of time, and rice absorbs more arsenic compared to other crops. Sorry, healthy mamas: Even organically grown rice (great!) is susceptible to high levels of arsenic contamination because of the necessary growing environment. Both white and brown rice contain arsenic, and high levels of arsenic damages the nervous system, can cause poor concentration/memory and reduced intelligence. Additionally, moms who eat a high arsenic diet while pregnant have babies with a higher chance of respiratory complications.
Now, let’s talk about digestion: Amylase is the name of the enzyme that digest starches and grains (like rice cereal). Babies only begin to produce salivary amylase when they reach 6 months of age (usually the age most parents introduce solids), however they don’t fully develop pancreatic amylase, the enzyme that digests carbohydrates, until approximately 8 years old! Now you see why 4 months is too early?
Rice cereal is bland and tasteless, usually a reason why it’s recommended to our little ones. However, believe it or not, your breastmilk is flavored by the foods you eat and your baby is familiar with different tastes very early on, depending on your diet.
So instead of limiting your baby to foods that are bland in taste and low in nutrition content, aim for a variety of healthy first foods (that your baby can digest) like banana, pear, avocado, sweet potato, and carrot (colors! tastes! textures!) that will not only be more gentle on his/her baby digestive system, but also encourage your child to make healthy diet choices as he/she grows.
Note: although a varied, wholesome diet past the 6 month mark is encouraged, make sure to introduce only one food at a time for at least 24-36 hours to monitor for any reactions/allergies. You never know!