Should you start earlier than one?
We hear the term “food before 1 is just for fun” thrown out in our Facebook group (search Feeding Littles Group to join) and in various Baby-led Weaning communities. The spirit of this phrase is great - don’t stress about the quantity of food your baby eats, and don’t worry if they just play - but the idea that EXPOSURE to food is unimportant before 1 could not be further from the truth for a variety of reasons. (This phrase is literally keeping some parents from offering any food before one.)
Since babies need exogenous iron (and zinc) starting around six months due to depletion of iron stores from birth, food does have a nutritional role, and that’s why we recommend high iron foods like softly cooked meats, lentils and beans starting at 6 months. (Mix beans/lentils with other foods like guacamole so baby can pick them up without the pincer grasp.)
We now know that in most babies, the delay of allergenic foods (peanuts, shellfish, eggs, etc.) actually INCREASES a baby’s risk of allergy to that food, so not introducing these foods close to 6 months can actually be more harmful in the long run.
Research suggests that babies who don’t get to practice with foods of various textures by 9 months are statistically more likely to have feeding issues in elementary school. Furthermore, not exposing a baby to food until they are 1 ignores their biological drive to eat and interest in food.
For sensory, developmental, motor, social, nutritional, allergenic, and oral coordination reasons, please start introducing foods to your baby when they’re around 6 months and start showing readiness signs like sitting unassisted, bringing foods to their mouth, no extrusion reflex, and good head/neck control unless told otherwise by your pediatrician.
Side note: having a pincer grasp is not a sign of readiness for food, and gagging when they start is normal and protective! Babies need practice to learn how to eat! Check our blog post for more feeding myths! Need help feeding your baby? Join the thousands of families who have used our online Infant Course to feel confident in feeding baby!
Megan and Judy, co-owners of Feeding Littles, bring you helpful info on food, nutrition, picky eating, and feeding young children. Megan McNamee MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Judy Delaware, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with children 3 and under in Boulder, Colorado. Megan and Judy are both moms of two and love helping families develop a healthy appetite for all foods!