Complementary foods should be introduced into the diet around the age of 6 months. A late introduction (after 6 months of age) can negatively affect the baby’s growth and the development of their eating behaviors.
Meeting nutritional needs with solid foods
Breastmilk and commercial infant formula no longer meet the needs of a full-term baby older than 6 months. Several nutrients may be missing:
- Vitamins D and E
- Several B vitamins
At birth, an infant has sufficient iron stores for the first 6 months of life. After this period, the baby must meet its needs through the diet. If not, an iron deficiency can occur, which can lead to anemia. Anemia can have adverse effects on a baby’s health and development. This condition weakens the immune system can cause an irreversible decline in the development of an infant’s cognitive functions.
Therefore, the first foods to introduce into a baby’s diet are those rich in iron.
A timely introduction of solid foods supports the development of the baby
Chewing involves complex movements that are possible once the neuromuscular system has matured. The introduction of complementary foods helps the child develop chewing abilities. Health Canada recommends offering a variety of textures and finger foods from 6 months of age. Foods that can be offered include those that are:
- Cooked until tender and finely chopped
- Crushed or ground
- Soft pieces
From the age of six months, babies should begin to explore different textures and flavors. At 8 months, the child should be able to eat foods that are not pureed, or they will be reluctant to eat different textured foods by the age of one.
The first year of life is a critical time for the development of taste and texture preferences. By one year of age, babies should be able to eat the same foods as the rest of the family; only with textures adapted to the baby’s needs (foods that are soft ground, crushed or cut into pieces).
All in all, if complementary foods are introduced too late, not only are children more prone to nutritional deficiencies, yet it may also be challenging for them to accept different foods. As a result, they can become very selective with regards to their diet.