By Rachael Wilson
In recent years we’ve seen the rise of baby led weaning as an alternative to spoon feeding purées when infants are starting solid food. Along with this idea has come a common phrase that “food before one is just for fun”.
I can understand where this idea originated. When transitioning to solid foods, the majority of the child’s nutritional requirements still come from milk feeds. During the 6-8 month age only around 5-8% of a child’s energy will come from solid foods. This will shift during the 9-11 month mark with the child getting closer to 25% of their energy from food. However, milk, be it breast milk or formula, is still where most of a child’s nutrition comes from.
[Editor’s note: The World Health Organisation, among many others, recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed – no cereal, juice or any other foods – until 6 months of age.]
So does this make the process of introducing solid foods less important or necessary? Is it merely just for fun? People could be led to believe that, if they are seeing the introduction of solid foods as only providing a small part of the child’s nutrition. However, there are many other important reasons why we introduce these foods in addition to milk around the time a child is 6 months.
Why is introducing solid foods at this age so vital?
- To prevent nutrient deficiencies. Particularly for iron and zinc. When a baby is born they have some stores of iron, however around the 4-6 month mark these stores begin to dwindle and additional nutrition is required to help meet the baby’s requirement for these nutrients. With increasing rates of iron deficiency worldwide, it is important that iron-rich foods are introduced as a priority during this period. Solid foods also provide energy, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals which are important for growth, cognitive development, and maturing of muscles, bones and organs.
- Developmental reasons: Research shows there is a critical developmental window at which we should introduce solids to our child. This is between 6-9 months. Children need to progress to a more mashed texture before the age of 9 months and more chewy textures before the age of 10 months. If the progression of eating to these textures is delayed, these children often have more feeding problems and difficulties accepting family foods as they grow older.