I have breastfed two children for a total of over five years. One child was ready to quit when we stopped, and one child was not.
I’ve always been a proponent of baby-led weaning (baby signals when it is time to stop breastfeeding). Unfortunately for many children, whether on formula or breastmilk, this occurs when solids are introduced. 40% of parents introduce solid food too soon.
Pediatricians suggest that babies should be on breast milk or formula until they reach the age of at least 6 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics first said that 4 months was acceptable, a rule that was advised for 20 years. Evidence supporting the health benefits of feeding babies breast milk caused experts to increase the age to 6 months. Although the group said that babies should be fed only breast milk for those first six months, mothers have the option of turning to baby formula instead.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a nationwide survey and found that many mothers are giving babies solid food too soon. According to the data obtained from 1,334 mothers, 40 percent gave their baby solid food before they reached 4 months of age and 9 percent started their babies as early as 4 weeks old. A study detailing the results was published Monday (March 25) in the journal, Pediatrics.
Is your baby telling you to stop breastfeeding? Is it too soon for solids?
Remember, just because your baby reaches the magic age of six months, that does not mean breastfeeding should end. Long term breastfeeding is beneficial, and your baby will tell you when it is time to stop breastfeeding. With my one child that was weaned based on his cues, I noticed I was the one asking him to breastfeed when he was a toddler, rather than the other way around. My first child that I forced to wean would never forget a feeding. I wish I would have done it differently the first time around.
What are the clues your baby is ready for solid foods other than age?
Doctors suggest when a child can sit up independently and take food from a utensil are solid signs your child is ready for solid foods. My grandmother always said that the emergence of teeth was the sign; however, my daughter got her first teeth at the early age three months. Grandma also said early teeth were a sign of a good reader. Well she was right, as my daughter reads six grade levels above her age.
The reasons give by mothers in the Pediatrics study “Prevalence and Reasons for Introducing Infants Early to Solid Foods: Variations by Milk Feeding Type” were:
- “My baby was old enough,”
- “My baby seemed hungry,”
- “I wanted to feed my baby something in addition to breast milk or formula,”
- “My baby wanted the food I ate,”
- “A doctor or other health care professional said my baby should begin eating solid food,” and
- “It would help my baby sleep longer at night.”
I wanted to believe that last one, but it was not true. My babies slept better at night cosleeping while nursing on demand.
Don’t forget, you can skip baby food altogether if you wait, as advised, until your child is absolutely ready for solid food. This could be later than six months. The point being six months is a good age to try solid food, but you don’t want to force anything. Just like with weaning, let your baby lead the way with solid foods.
I found it somewhat of a struggle starting my children on solids. I started at six months as advised, but neither of my children were very interested or quite knew what to do with the food. Other adults were excited they could finally help feed my babies, but it took at least a month of trying to get solid food feeding part of any regular routine. For my children, the breast continued to be the primary source of nourishment until about the age of one. We continued breastfeeding until two and half years of age, but food became more important as they began to walk.
If your baby is crying when you try to feed them solids, then he/she is telling you he/she is not ready. Take it slow…there’s no rush to solid food.
Image: Breast Feeding Baby on Bigstock
I like baby led weaning too, although by the the I was ready to be done with my youngest, she wasn’t. She was 2.5 when I weaned her, and she kept trying for it for most of another year. Determined kid. She still (age 4) calls my breasts her friends.
My son was the only one to get solids before 6 months. At 3 months he started reaching for any food he saw; at 5 months we gave in. Still, all my kids breastfed at least a year and a half, since those things aren’t exclusive.
Jennifer Lance says
I do think that ultimately it is important to listen to the needs of the individual child.