Delaying Solid Food for Infants

Becky Flora, BSed, IBCLC

The American Academy of Pediatrics advised that the healthy, full-term breastfed baby needs nothing other than mother’s milk, including supplemental formula, water, juice, cereal (spooned or in a bottle), or other solid food, until he is at least six months old. Breastfeeding experts have long been advocating that solids be delayed until at least the middle of the baby’s first year. What are the benefits of waiting this long?

• The younger the baby, the more likely it is that any foods other than human milk will cause food allergies. While solely breastfed, the baby is protected by components in mother’s milk that prevent foreign proteins from entering the baby’s system and causing an allergic reaction. At about six months of age, the baby begins producing enough antibodies to prevent such allergic reactions. This benefit is especially important for a baby whose family has a history of allergies.

• Because a young baby’s digestive system is immature, he may not be able to digest other foods as well, perhaps making spitting up, constipation, and diarrhea more common. Waiting until the baby is at least six months old lessens the probability that these unpleasant reactions will occur.

• Solids displace breastmilk in the baby’s diet. The more solid food a baby consumes the less breastmilk he consumes. Early introduction of solids puts the baby at risk for premature weaning. An inferior food has been substituted for a superior one, and partial weaning has begun.

• Breastfed babies are rarely obese, but when they are it is most often related to the early addition of solid foods. This may be because a younger baby is less able to communicate when he has had enough, perhaps resulting in overfeeding.

• Breastfeeding provides some degree of birth control. It is most effective, however, when the baby is exclusively breastfeeding – no formula or water supplements and no solid foods. The addition of these cuts down on the amount of time the baby spends at the breast, therefore reducing the amount of stimulation necessary to inhibit ovulation in the mother.

• A young baby still possesses the tongue-thrust reflex which causes the food to be pushed out of the mouth rather than swallowed. This coupled with the fact that most young babies are unable to sit up alone results in feeding that is messier and more difficult. Once a baby has reached six months of age the tongue-thrust reflex has faded and baby can take a more active part in feeding time.

MYTHS CONCERNING THE ADDITION OF OTHER FOODS

“Babies who live in very warm climates need extra water, especially during summertime, to quench their thirst and avoid dehydration.”

Breastmilk is about 80% water. As long as a baby is allowed unlimited and unrestricted access to his mother’s breast, he does not need additional water at least until he is six months of age and eating solid food and then only in small amounts to aid with digestion. Giving a baby water may cause him to feel full, thereby resulting in him demanding to nurse less often and thus getting less of the milk that he requires for proper nutrition and growth. Furthermore, some recent studies have indicated that the kidneys of babies, especially very young ones, are not mature enough to handle large amounts of water and giving water may actually result in health risks for the baby. Additionally the mother receives less stimulation when the baby is given water supplements which may have an adverse effect on her milk supply.

“Adding solid food to a baby’s diet will help him go longer between breastfeedings and perhaps sleep through the night.”

There is absolutely no correlation between the presence of solids in a baby’s diet – or the lack of it – and the baby beginning to sleep through the night. If adding solid food to a young baby’s diet results in him going longer between feedings, it is probably because his digestive system is having to work overtime due to the strain placed on it by foods he is not physically mature enough to digest.

“Introducing solids ensures that a baby is not deprived of necessary iron in his diet.”

Anemia is uncommon in the breastfed baby due to the following reasons: 1) a healthy, full-term infant has ample iron stores at birth to last him at least for the first six months of life, 2) although the amount of iron in breastmilk is small, it is readily absorbed at a rate of 49% compared to 4% of the iron in formula. This is due to the high levels of lactose and vitamin C in human milk, which aid in the absorption of iron, and 3) breastfed babies do not lose iron through their bowels as do formula-fed infants, whose intestines develop fissures from damage caused by cow’s milk.

Becky is a board certified, registered lactation consultant (IBCLC, RLC) in practice with Breastfeeding Essentials in Kingsport, TN. She is the mother of 4 children ranging in ages from 7-13 whom she all breastfed proudly!