Starting Solids and Allergy Prevention
Throughout our journey of parenthood, there are multiple stresses that we face. We are constantly trying to ensure that we offer our babies and children everything possible to help them grow and develop to their full potential.
With a majority of parents, starting solids ranks high on the list of stresses. There is so much conflicting advice offered on how to tackle this exciting yet stressful time in our baby’s lives.
Generally when we look at eating and oral skill development we see that a large percentage of babies are developmentally ready to start solids between 16-26 weeks (4-6 months) of age. Different organisations have differing views on the exact time to start. The Australian NHMRC guidelines still recommends starting solids at around 6 months, while various other organisations namely the ASCIA, NASPGHAN and ESPGHN all recommend starting between 16-26 weeks. The recommendations of earlier introduction of solids has come out of multiple studies which have indicated that later introduction of solids can result in the development of allergies. Currently, all food allergies are increasing in the Western world with 1 in 10 Australian children having a food allergy, and 3% are allergic to peanuts.
The immune system of the human gut has a complex task of discrimination. It requires accurate differentiation between foreign proteins that are dangerous (viruses and bacteria) and foreign proteins that are food (peanut, fish and egg). It has been said that the human gut may have a critical early window in which it has the opportunity to develop immunological tolerance. Delaying this introduction has been found to make this discrimination less efficient. Introducing solids from around 4 months has been found to decrease the risk of food allergy and celiac disease. Therefore it is recommended that unless a parent or sibling has an allergy, high allergy foods such as peanuts, fish and egg should be introduced early.
When looking at the process of starting solids, it is now advised to follow a more rapid introduction of multiple foods as this improves tolerance and taste development. New foods can be introduced earlier in the day in case of a reaction. In terms of the process of starting solids, as a feeding therapist I recommend starting with purees and then from around 6 months, a combination of safe finger foods and purees are advised. By combining the two methods a baby will be getting multiple taste experiences and essential nutrients from the purees and finger foods will enable them to develop the appropriate oral skills required for chewing and swallowing of regular table foods.
With all recommendations, it is important to remember that every baby develops differently. When it comes to starting solids it is advisable to look at your baby’s development. Holding their head up, opening their mouth for food and showing interest in food are some basic signs that your baby may be ready. With all of this, the most important aspect of starting solids is the environment. It should be relaxed and enjoyed by both the baby and their parents.