I started Jamie on solids a couple of weeks back, when he was 4 months and 2 weeks old, despite current guidelines suggesting that babies should not be started on solid food before they have reached 6 months of age.
So why did I start solids early?
Jamie was a good sleeper, almost from birth. At 3 months he usually slept 7 or 8 hour stretches and I was having a great time, wondering what all the fuss regarding sleepless nights and exhausting motherhood was all about
Then, when Jamie turned 4 months, things turned pear-shaped. Suddenly he would wake up every 2 hours demanding food, crying, being awake for long stretches in the middle of the night – all things completely new to me. I am ‘grateful’ I could experience this aspect of motherhood too, but it was enough, thank you very much!
I asked other parents for advice and many of them admitted to weaning before the magic 6 months cut off point. According to them, nights got better after they introduced solid food. (This is contrary to studies that show that introducing solids does not actually help babies sleep through the night).
I was getting desperate and happy to do what it took… Before I decided not to comply with the guidelines suggested by the WHO and implemented by the Health Department in 2003 following a systemic review by Kramer and Kakuma in 2002, I researched some of the current peer-reviewed literature out there discussing exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months versus introducing solids earlier, at around 4 months. I certainly did not want to put Jamie at risk just to have a good night’s sleep.
It appears that the jury is very much still out and it is often claimed that ‘parents cannot win’ and confusing advice leads to parents just “doing what they want”. This 2013 article in the Herald Tribune for example cites a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed that 40% of parents introduced solids even before 4 months!
While I would not risk starting solid foods that early, it seems it is not only safe, but may even be beneficial, to not delay weaning until 6 months. This literature review published in the British Medical Journal (Fewtrell 2011) suggests that weaning at 6 months (as opposed to starting earlier) may lead to a higher risk of iron deficiency anaemia, higher incidence of food allergies and higher risk of coeliac disease. Other recent publications and literature reviews support that introducing a variety of foods between 17 weeks and 27 weeks is crucial for babies not to develop allergies or celiac disease (Sansotta et al 2012).
There are some suggestions stating that delaying the
introduction of certain foods may actually increase (rather
than decrease) the prevalence of allergic diseases. Therefore, when a child is ready, from the fourth month of life, a
new solid food should be introduced every couple of days,
while encouraging the mother to possibly continue breastfeeding during this period. (Sansotta et al 2011)
If you however read articles like this on mumsnet, you think that you are severely maltreating your baby if you feed solids before 6 months…
So everyone should decide for themselves if their baby is ready for solids or not and if they want to comply with current WHO and NHS guidelines I find it comforting however that there is mounting evidence that starting proper food a few weeks earlier won’t harm your baby and I wouldn’t let any ill-informed healthcare visitor bully me into doing one thing or the other. I can safely say that I know more about the benefits and dangers of early weaning after a 30 minutes literature search than the stupid healthcare visitor who held the weaning class in King’s Road.
I don’t know whether it is the solid food, if it is the bottle of formula I have started giving Jamie now every evening before bedtime or if it would have happened anyway if I had just stuck to exclusively breastfeeding, but he sleeps now for 7-9 hours each night. In fact, yesterday (on his 5 months birthday) he slept for 12 hours!