Congratulations on your baby.
I remember when you were first pregnant here on the forum.
We have had many discussions about starting solids here on the forum since fall of 2007, when I joined. You can do a search to get additional info. I thought I would weigh in here, as I have been a breastfeeding specialist for 5 years, am sitting for the board certification exam in July as a lactation consultant, and have extensively studied infant nutrition. In addition, I have four children, including one with numerous food allergies. My youngest will be three next week (the allergic child), so keeping up with current research was a priority.
First, I would like to explain why you have seen information that talks about starting solids between 4-6 months as opposed to the standard recommendation of 6 months, endorsed by both the American Academy of Pediatricians, the World Health Organization, and numerous breastfeeding research organizations.
Historically, the subject of infant nutrition has been up for continuous debate. Fads in parenting affected recommendations regarding nutrition. When I was born in 1968, my mother prided herself on staying current so she chose to not breastfeed and to start solids at 2 weeks of age. (Yes...I said 2 weeks
.) I was started on whole cow's milk at 6 months. At that time, detachment parenting was popular. Children were supposed to fit into parent's lives. It was seen as optimal for children to become as independent as possible at an early age.
Fast forward to 1997, when my twins were born. The AAP recommendation at the time was starting solids between 4-6 months, with a very structured way to do it: rice cereal, other grains, then fruit, then vegetables. Over the next few years, the debate extended to the wisdom of vegetables over fruit, with the thinking that babies would inherently be drawn to the sweetness of fruit and reject vegetables if they were not started on vegetables first.
Starting in the late 1970's, there was a movement towards a more natural way of living. Breastfeeding came back into the culture. By the late 1980's, early 1990's, there was more support for breastfeeding and Dr. William Sears started writing about what he termed "attachment parenting", a respectful way of family living that allowed parents to get in tune with their child.
By the late 1990's, early 2000's, the internet took off and mothers used email lists to discuss parenting issues, including starting solids. Funding was dramatically increased for breastfeeding research, which in turn, led to insight into infant nutrition. Now, over at the American Academy of Pediatrics, something very interesting was happening. The subgroup on breastfeeding was in a battle with the subgroup on nutrition. The breastfeeding group wanted to assert a recommendation of starting solids at 6 months and had the research to back it up. The nutrition group wanted to leave the recommendation at 4-6 months because infants who were formula-fed were thought to need additional iron and other nutrients at an earlier age than infants who were breastfed. In addition, they were under pressure by the baby food industry, who wanted as early a start date as possible. There was also the issue of parents who were paying money for artificial baby milk (formula), who wanted an early start date to reduce their costs.
At the same time, the World Health Organization was busy creating new growth charts for children, based on breastfeeding as the norm. The original child growth charts were based solely on formula fed infants in the United States in the 1950's. As research now proves, breastfed infants and formula fed infants have very different growth patterns and lay down different fat stores (both in number of fat cells and in composition).
Back in the United States, the American Dietetic Association, under influence from the baby food industry, decided to stay with the 4-6 month recommendation. Many of it's Registered Dietitians write articles for childcare magazines and they perpetuated the 4-6 month date.
Then in 2004, the US government had an ambitious plan to promote breastfeeding to meet their 2010 goals of increasing breastfeeding rates in the hospital, at 6 months of age and at 1 year of age. Unfortunately, under the Bush administration, the plan was so broken apart that it eventually backfired and proceeded to portray breastfeeding as "the gold standard", or "optimal" which means something for the wealthy and educated as opposed to "normal" for all mothers.
Since about 2006, the AAP could no longer ignore the research and they finally started promoting the fact that they had already agreed that 6 months of age was the proper time to begin solids.
So now, in 2009, we have all major health organizations backing a 6 month start date. Unfortunately, the 4-6 month window persists because of doctors with outdated information, mothers who had different recommendations for their older children, and people who use outdated information to write current nutrition articles in parenting magazines.
As for starting solids at a later age, research into allergy and sensitivity issues is starting to bear this out. For some exclusively breastfed children, their systems are simply not ready until between 9 and 12 months. I personally experienced this with two of my children. My now 7 year old (with a dairy sensitivity) would not take solids by 9 months. I spoke with my pediatrician at the time, who was not concerned, based on my child's growth and development. She ended up starting at 10 months of age.
My almost 3 year old has multiple allergies/ sensitivities (dairy, soy, bananas, pears, nearly all orange food, plus more). She still had the tongue thrust reflex at 10 months of age, which is being hypothesized as a way for sensitive children to avoid ingesting food too early. She eventually started solids closer to 12 months. She was always at the highest percentile on the height and weight charts and has above normal development.
You have been given some good book recommendations. I love "Baby Matters" by Linda Folden Palmer (2007-revised edition). "Nourishing Traditions" has beneficial information for adults but contains outdated and incorrect breastfeeding information. Put in historical context, Westin Price lived during a time where breastfeeding was not a cultural norm, and Sally Fallon has very limited breastfeeding experience and knowledge, which was influenced by the time period in which she had her own children. (We do the best we can with the knowledge we have at the time.)
Other books you may enjoy:
"Feeding the Whole Family" by Cynthia Lair (2008-revised edition)
"Whole Foods for Babies and Toddlers" by Margaret Kenda (2001)
and, for later:
"The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood" by Dr. William Sears et al (2006)
For support for healthy eating and exclusive breastfeeding, you may want to try Mothering Magazine.
In my starting solids meetings, I give out the following information:Starting Solids
Signs of Readiness:
Tongue thrust reflex is disappearing
Ability to chew
Can pick up food and put in mouth
Increase in nursing unrelated to illness, teething, or disturbance in routine
Good First Foods:
Ripe avocado, banana, yam, or sweet potato
Meat (chopped, stewed, or tender pieces of chicken that can be mashed)
Fresh fruits such as apple or pear that can be scraped with a spoon
First Foods to Avoid:
Eggs, especially the egg white
Citrus fruits, berries with seeds, and dried fruits
Foods with added sugar or artificial sweeteners
Foods high in salt
Source: The Breastfeeding Answer Book (LLLI)Advantages of Waiting Until Baby is ReadyDecreased risk of allergies.
The younger the baby, the more likely it is that any foods other than human milk will cause food allergies. While baby is totally breastfed, components of human milk protect the baby’s digestive tract, reducing the risk that foreign proteins could enter the baby’s system and cause allergic reactions. At about six months of age, a baby begins producing enough IgA antibodies to prevent the absorption of food antigens through the intestinal wall, reducing the possibility of food allergies.Increased ability of the baby to digest solid foods.
The baby’s digestive system matures during the first six months. Before his system is ready to handle other foods, most solids are poorly digested and may cause an unpleasant reaction. These same foods, however, will be readily assimilated if they are delayed until the baby is six months or older.Assurance of proper nutrition through maintenance of the mother’s milk supply.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that human milk continue to be a baby’s primary source of nutrition for the first year. Since solids replace human milk in a baby’s diet, the more solids a baby takes, the less milk he takes from the breast and the less milk there will be. Early introduction of solids puts baby at risk for premature weaning. By adding solids to her baby’s diet before he needs them, the mother substitutes an inferior food for a superior food. Decreased risk of ear infections.
In one study of 1013 babies, researchers found that babies who were exclusively breastfed for four months or more had 40% fewer episodes of acute ear infections than breastfed babies whose diets were supplemented with other foods before four months. Because solids take the place of human milk in a baby’s diet, starting other foods decreases the amount of protective antibodies the baby receives. Decreased health risks from contaminated foods.
In areas of the world without safe water supplies, starting solids before six months may present a serious health risk. In these areas, early solids are associated with increased incidence of infections and diarrheal diseases, the number one cause of infant death worldwide. Both the World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding exclusively for six months to protect the health of children in these areas. Continued effectiveness of breastfeeding as a natural child spacer.
The child spacing value of breastfeeding is most effective when the baby is exclusively breastfeeding and receives no supplements, solids, or soothers (pacifiers) that cut down on the baby’s time at the breast.Ease of feeding.
Due to the tongue thrust reflex of the younger baby –which causes the food to be pushed out of his mouth rather than swallowed – and the baby’s inability to sit up alone, feeding solids to a younger baby is much messier and more difficult. As a baby reaches six months old, the tongue thrust reflex fades and the baby can take a more active part in the feeding.
I hope this information has been helpful to you in your research. As parents, it is our job to learn as much as we can and then to decide what is right for our family.