When is the right time to introduce complementary foods?
Complementary foods are foods and beverages other than breast milk or formula given to infants when they are developmentally ready for them. They can be liquid, semisolid or solid. Along with feeding breast milk or formula, they help complete your baby’s nutritional needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommends breast milk for the first 6 months, before introducing complementary foods. Ideal nutrition, protection from choking, and the maturity of your baby’s digestive system are all factors that determine the recommended age for starting complementary foods. The best time to introduce complementary foods varies, because babies may develop at different rates. It is important to tune into your baby’s developmental readiness before you introduce complementary foods.
Signs of Readiness
Babies may open their mouths, lean forward and drool when they are ready to receive complementary foods. If your baby is not interested or full, do not force the feeding. Your baby may turn away, close their mouth and push away the spoon. Respect and follow these cues, which will lead to healthy eating patterns throughout their life. Your baby should have reached the following milestones before you offer complementary foods.
- Holds their head up straight
- Sits up with support
- Shows interest in foods you are eating
- Opens mouth to receive food
- Closes lips over the spoon
- Swallows instead of pushing the food back out of their mouth
A Window of Opportunity
It’s important to not start complementary foods too early-before 4 months of age-for three reasons:
- Increased risk of choking
- Decreased consumption of breast milk or infant formula
- Increased risk of obesity
Likewise, introducing complementary foods too late-after 6 months of age-may experience the following problems:
- Develop nutritional deficiencies (infants need a dietary source of iron and zinc at 6 months of age, which cannot be met by breast milk or formula alone)
- Increased difficulties learning to eat
- Increased risk of food allergies
Did you know?
Responding to your baby’s hunger cues builds a secure attachment and develops a trusting relationship.