I thought about writing a post about different parenting styles, but decided it could open a can of worms and would probably offend some people, including some of my friends! I like to assume my other mummy and daddy friends parent in the same kind of way I do, but I know this is not the case. I have friends who have used cry it out, for example, which is something I don’t agree with. So, let’s not go there and just agree to avoid that subject for now.
However there’s one area of parenting that still baffles me; how so many mums and dads are not only doing something very differently, but repeatedly doing so against current guidelines. And that is the introduction of solids.
It is recommended in this country to introduce solid foods to babies from around six months. This has been the advice for many years, and is not about to change. It is not advice that “is always changing”, or “just for breastfed babies”, or “just a number picked out of the air”. It is advice based on analysis of extensive research into food allergies, food intolerance, development and nutrition. I don’t care what your Nan says, or what the other parents on Mumsnet say. Six months is the recommended age. Not four to six month. Not by six months. Six months.
There are signs that a baby is ready for solids: He can sit up without support, so he will not slump and choke on his food. He has lost his tongue-thrust, which pushes foreign objects out of his mouth lest they accidentally get in there before he’s ready to eat them. He can reach for food, pick it up, and guide it to his mouth himself. These signs say baby is developmentally ready for food – before these signs are there his gut is not fully mature and ‘sealed’ and anything other than milk (or formula) getting in can result in infection or food allergies. These signs usually occur around six months; sometimes a little later, rarely much before.*
This is what the government have been advising for years, yet I am constantly meeting parents who start solids at four months or before. I recently met a mum who started her premature twins on solids at three months. At six months they were so small they could barely hold their heads up while laying on their tummies, let alone sit unassisted. So why did she start giving them small pieces of mushy rusk at 12 weeks? Who can say.
We’re oh so keen as a nation to move our kids on to the Next Big Thing before they’re ready. Maybe it’s like a badge of honor for some parents? My kid does x y and z, but yours is still just doing a b and c. Or maybe they’re taking advice from older generations who did things differently? I don’t know. As I said, if baffles me.
Not helped, of course, by jars of baby food and baby snacks labelled in supermarkets as ‘suitable from 4 months’. I could write an essay on the evils of the baby food industry (let alone the formula industry… *grr mutter mumble*). But just because Heinz and Nestle want you to buy their strained peas and noodles from 4 months, doesn’t mean you should! Save your pennies and give your kids the best start in life by exclusively milk feeding them for six months. I don’t care if that milk is your milk, formula milk or milk donated from a lactating mother in Dubai. Just don’t rush them into solids before they’re ready!
* I have had discussions with mums about babies who meet all the required milestones for introduction of solids very early. Say a baby can sit up and self-feed without spitting food out at 4.5 months. Should they start solids or wait? I don’t have the answer to that! I’m inclined to say wait a little until they are closer to six months in this case, but I am not a health professional and would suggest if you have any doubts always speak to your health visitor, or a nurse or GP first. *thumbs up*