Infants between four and six months are developmentally and emotionally ready to explore a new feeding method, different foods, flavours, and textures. Their nutritional needs increase, and the introduction of solids contributes to optimise growth and brain development. More energy from food also supports their more energetic bodies as they start to sit, play and crawl.
Why start between 4 to 6 months? Physiologically the intestinal tract is still somewhat permeable before four months of age. The lining, made up of cells called enterocytes, still form protein complex connections called junctions. These enterocytes and junctions work together to ensure the correct absorption of nutrients. If these junctions are not correctly bound, some bigger nutrient particles pass through and need to be further metabolised elsewhere or get filtered through the kidneys into the urine.
Ultimately the gut cannot absorb these more complex nutrients yet and is irritated. Early introduction of solids (before four months) can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea and increase the possibility of developing allergies. Whereas, the delayed introduction may lead to deficiencies and tactile difficulties to accept a different mode of feeding.
The relatively significant window period enables each parent to observe and responsively feed their infant when the infant is ready.
Your infant is ready to start exploring with food when:
- Showing an interest in food by grabbing, sucking on lips, or opening his/her mouth when food is nearby
- Can sit and have head control
The correct food, timing, and approach when introducing solids help prevent allergies, picky eaters, childhood obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies crucial to brain and motor development.
Remember, it is a journey, not a destination – it should be a fun experience for the parent and infant, and he/she is still getting the bulk of their needs from their milk feeds.
Nadia J van Rensburg, RD(SA), Rooted Natural, Co-founder