More and more evidence is coming to hand that there are both short-term and long-term benefits for babies, toddlers and children from the introduction of new foods to babies at around 4 to 5 months of age. By that age a baby’s swallowing reflex has matured to the stage where semi-solids and some solids can be taken. The range of benefits include not only a baby becoming familiar with new tastes, but also such things as a reduction in the risk of atopic dermatitis and other symptoms of food allergies arising in future months and years.
This age (4 to 5 months) is becoming regarded as “a critical early window” of development as the baby’s maturing of its immune system in its digestive process. Although WHO has international recommendations for exclusive feeding of breast milk until 6 months of age, it must be remembered that this is largely advocated for developing countries as protection from poor sanitation. Studies in developed countries are increasingly showing immunological benefits from breast-feeding mothers commencing the feeding of semi-solids and solids to their babies from 4 to 5 months of age, as has largely been the custom for formula-fed babies.
The introduction of semi-solid or solid food alternatives should be done one new food at a time, about 3 to 4 days apart, to determine that the baby can tolerate each new food.
The introduction of new foods to babies at this age should not be of concern to those mothers determined to continue breastfeeding, as the personal diets of mothers continue to change over the years, and ongoing exclusive feeding of breast milk may lead to inadequate intake by the baby of some important nutrients. For example, most mothers have quite inadequate consumption of foods containing the Omega-3 DHA so necessary for optimum brain development in babies.