Introducing Solids: Why You Should Wait Until 6 Months

Recommendations for introducing solids have changed a lot, but there are so many benefits of waiting until 6 months. Read on to find out why.

Introducing solids can be a confusing topic—recommendations for introducing solids have changed a lot in the last couple of decades. But we have the definitive answer, plus all the supporting evidence you need to make the best decision for your baby. See all the benefits of waiting until 6 months here.

Recommendations for introducing solids have changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Women used to be pressured to feed rice cereal to their babies as early as a few weeks old for a better night’s sleep.

When I was a baby, moms were told to start solids between 6 weeks and 4 months old, depending on baby’s sleep pattern and if the baby was struggling with reflux or excessive spit up.

When I became a mom, I started introducing solids at 4 months, based on different recommendations. Recent research and the reactions of my kids makes me wish I had waited to introduce solids. 

What Are the Current Recommendations for Introducing Solids?

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend exclusive breastfeeding until baby is 6 months old. 

“Introducing babies to complementary foods too early can cause them to miss out on important nutrients that come from breast milk and infant formula.” explains Chloe M. Barrera, MPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Today, despite these recommendations and studies that advise otherwise, over 54% of women surveyed introduce solids to their infants before 6 months. The survey showed that 16.3% of babies are given solids before 4 months and 38.3% between 4-5 months.

In another survey, parents cited these reasons for introducing solids before 6 months:

  • 90% said they thought their baby was old enough to start eating solids
  • 71% said their baby seemed hungry a lot of the time
  • 55% said their doctor or health care professional recommended this

Why Wait Until 6 Months to Introduce Solids?

Babies are born with very immature digestive systems. While the GI tract is still maturing, infant’s systems are not equipped to digest anything but breast milk. If anything but breastmilk is introduced, even formula, it can permanently alter baby’s gut microbiota, causing problems like necrotizing enterocolitis, diarrheal disease, and allergies.

“In infants, the ring of muscle between the esophagus and the stomach—the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)—is not fully mature, allowing stomach contents to flow backward,” says Andrew E. Mulberg, M.D., a pediatrician and pediatric gastroenterologist. “In time, the LES will mature and open only when the baby swallows and will remain tightly closed the rest of the time, keeping stomach contents where they belong”

That said, some mamas simply don’t produce enough breast milk (and other moms may not want to breastfeed for various reasons). If breastfeeding doesn’t work for you, that’s ok. There are plenty of healthy formulas, and many babies thrive on formula. Consider adding probiotics to baby’s formula to help with immune and gut function.

But that’s just the beginning. Here, a host of other reasons to hold off on introducing solids until 6 months:

1. Long-term health

Holding off on all solids until 6 months of age can boost your child’s long-term health. Because infants who start eating food need less calories from breastmilk, they may lose out on some of the most important benefits of breastfeeding. These include lower risk of obesity, diabetes, respiratory and ear infections, as well as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Breastfeeding also reduces the frequency of doctor visits, hospitalizations, and prescriptions, according to the CDC.

2. Improved immune system

“One of the benefits of breastmilk is that each mother provides custom-designed milk to protect her infant,” according to Dr. Sears. “When a baby is exposed to a new germ, mother’s body manufactures antibodies to that germ.” One study suggests that these maternal antibodies in breast milk improve an infant’s intestinal immune system—an effect that continues to benefit baby well into adulthood.

3. Allergy Prevention

Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months has been shown to significantly lessen the risk and severity of food allergies in families with a strong history of them. It also reduces the risk of skin sensitivities, like eczema.

To further prevent allergies, studies suggest introducing allergenic foods as soon as baby is ready to try solids can reduce your child’s risk of developing food allergies by up to 80 percent. But since babies can’t exactly eat nuts or even peanut butter, I recommend trying a product called Ready, Set, Food!, which gives parents the option to add the most common allergenic foods (eggs, nuts, and milk) to breastmilk, formula, or puree in a safe and effective way.

4. Higher IQ

One study found that exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months or longer was associated with a higher IQ. At seven-year followups, the IQ of exclusively breastfed babies was an average of 3.8 points higher gain than those who were not exclusively breastfeed during this time period. Researchers think this is because maternal milk is rich in fatty acids and other bioactive components essential for brain development.

5. Mama’s Milk Supply

The best way to maintain your milk supply is to keep nursing—nursing is all about supply and demand. When you start introducing solids, baby needs less breast milk since he/she is getting calories elsewhere. But babies under 6 months of age get all of the calories and nutrients they need from breast milk, so there is no need to put your supply at risk by introducing solids.  

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There Are Always Exceptions

Like just about anything with babies, there is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to introducing solids. At the end of the day, every baby is different, and every baby develops at different speeds. Some babies are more advanced and may be ready for solid foods around 5-5.5 months; other babies may not be ready for solid foods until 7-8 months. And for other babies, your pediatrician may recommend starting solids if baby needs extra calories or nutrition. Don’t focus too much on the number if it seems like your baby is showing signs that he/she is ready a littler earlier or a little later. Always work with your doctor to best determine the right time to introduce solids to your baby. 

A Note About Introducing Solids

Waiting until after 6 months of age to introduce solids and water is important for optimal long-term health. After 6 months, watch your baby for signs of readiness. Baby should be able to support his/her head very well and sit up on his/her own. Baby may even start to show interest, by reaching for your food.

If baby reaches 6 months and doesn’t seem ready for solids, talk to your pediatrician about how to proceed. For most babies, iron stores begin to drop around this time—many babies will begin to need more nutrition than mom’s milk alone can provide. Waiting too long to introduce solids can also lead to delayed developmental skills, food texture sensitivities, and allergies.

Once baby is ready to start solids, go slowly. Just because you’re ready to start introducing solids doesn’t mean you can feed baby whatever you’re eating. Start with complementary foods and continue breastfeeding. Check out this article to explore the best iron-rich foods for baby.

The WHO recommends that, in addition to breast milk, baby eats

  • solids 2-3 times a day between 6-8 months,
  • 3-4 times a day between 9-11 months,
  • 3-4 times a day with an additional snack 1-2 times a day between 12-24 months.

Ready to start introducing solids? I recommend trying baby led weaning. Once you start, watch for signs of discomfort, like indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, and increased spitting up. If baby shows signs of discomfort, he/she may not be ready just yet. Reduce the amount of food you’re introducing and consider adding probiotics to help with digestion. If that doesn’t work, take a little break and try again in a few days.

How About You?

When did you start feeding baby solids? How did you know your baby was ready?

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

9 Comments

  1. Our baby is 4.5 months. He is super interested in us eating, reaches for our food, has great head control and sits well in his high chair. We weren’t planning to give solids/ cereal yet but the doc recommended if he’s not sleeping well maybe he’s still hungry. I went back to work I am a nurse and work 12+ hours shifts and waking up three times a night is just keeping me absolutely exhausted. I am so tempted to try and see if it will help him (mostly me) sleep longer but I’m still unsure if it’s the right thing to do.

    • Reaching out to a pediatric nutritionist is your best bet. Typically children under one year get their nutrition via breastmilk and/or artificial milk and solids are considered “just for fun.” It’s also a biological norm for babies to wake up several times per night to breastfeed.

  2. Thank you for your article. I came here because my pediatrician said I could begin giving my 4 month old solids. He is exclusively breastfed. She said he “looked like he was holding up his head very well and developing”, so therefore would be ready to begin rice cereal. I wasn’t looking to start early and mentioned how he sleeps very well. He is gaining weight steadily. I asked her about the AAP and their 6 month recommendation . She kind of shrugged it off and mentioned another national board that said it depends more on the child’s readiness. I can’t remember the other organization she said. I’m good. We will wait til he’s 6 months. Breast milk is the best.

  3. Hi, my son is currently 4 months old and he has been formula fed since birth. Today the doctor told us we can start solids if we want to. I have read many times online that it’s better to wait until 6 months, but I hadn’t researched the reasoning behind that advice. I came to this article expecting answers, but the reasons for not starting solids are focused on the advantages of breast milk. Well, my son obviously does not have those advantages anyway. This article does not make an argument for keeping my son exclusively on formula for 6 months before introducing solids, leaving me still uncertain. I wish this article had been more inclusive. Thank you.

    • I’m in the exact same boat! I have a formula-fed 4-month old whose pediatrician recommended we go ahead and start on solid foods. Obviously if the only pro to waiting for the 6 month mark is the nutrition received from breastmilk, our situation (which is incredibly common) isn’t addressed here. That being said, I think we’re going to move ahead with sweet potato puree (avoiding rice cereal) and see where that takes us.

      • It’s NOT just because of breast milk. It’s because of the immature GI tract. Please don’t give food at 4 months regardless of your baby being formula fed.

  4. Can I make these in bulk and freeze to take to daycare? How do I do that? I don’t want to do the cereal, but the food in this article, but I’m most positive the daycare will think I’m crazy. Any advice is appreciated!

  5. My baby will be 6 months in 10 days. Should I wait the 10 days until introducing solids or is it fine to do now? He definitely seems like he’s ready for food but he’s been exclusively breastfed from birth so for some reason I feel hesitant! First time mom here, obviously 🙂

    • My daughter is 6months in 12 days, we’ve been waiting SO LONG to introduce her to solids. She’s hungry and super jealous of the food we eat. She’s 24 weeks, sits up really well and tries to eat all of our food… so we’re introducing cereal (loaded spoons) and avocado tonight. If she does well, we’ll prob give her some of our spaghetti too.

      Good luck mama! (mama of 4)


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