Complementary foods should be introduced around the age of 6 months. Early introduction (before the age of 4 months) may present certain health risks for the baby.
Since babies do not all develop at the same pace, Health Canada encourages the gradual introduction of foods at six months, when the baby shows all signs of being ready to eat. To learn more about these signs, click here. For information on the age of introduction of complementary foods in a premature baby, click here.
If the introduction of solids starts too early, that is to say before the age of 4 months, some problems may occur:
- Digestive and kidney function in infants are not mature enough to absorb adequately complementary foods. Infants do not have enough saliva and enzymes to properly digest food.
- Food is likely to take the place of breast milk or commercial preparations rather than to complement them. This can affect the growth of the child.
- The immune system is not mature enough yet, which increases the risk of developing food allergies.
- The neuromuscular system is not sufficiently developed to enable real chewing movements. Before the age of 6 months, infants can only suck and swallow.
Between the ages of 4 to 6 months, the infant development reaches a stage where the introduction of food can begin to supplement breastfeeding or commercial preparations. However, it should be noted that the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 6 months to maximize the benefits of breastmilk on the health of the baby and the mother. In this light, it is preferable to introduce complementary foods only at the age of 6 months. Breast milk or commercial preparations must then remain the staple food until the age of 9 to 12 months. That being said, breastfeeding should continue for as long as the baby demands it. As for commercial preparations, babies must continue to drink at least 750 ml per day.
To learn more about the risks associated with the introduction of complementary foods after 6 months of age, see the following article .