When Shlomo was a baby, we decided to give him solid food only at 6 months. Not 5 months and 2 weeks, but six months, to the day, or perhaps plus a day or two. After all, nursing babies don’t need solid food before then; the range of 4-6 months is because, until recently, formula-fed babies were thought to need solids from 4 months, regardless of whether their digestive system was completely ready for it. (Recently, the guidelines have changed, and the new guidelines say to start solids only at six months, regardless of whether the baby is breastfed or formula fed.) And so six months it would be.
Honestly, four to six months is an estimate. Just like not every baby smiles at six weeks exactly, not every baby is born on their due date, and not every baby crawls at the same time – so, too, not every baby’s digestive system is ready for solids at exactly the same time, either. The 4-6 months for starting solids is a general guideline; even though, as a general rule, you won’t hurt your baby by giving them solids at five months and one week, it doesn’t mean that that’s what’s absolutely best for your specific baby.
If so, how will you know when to give your baby solids?
When Shlomo was five months old, we went to visit my family, in Canada. When he fussed after a feeding, my mother, always wanting to get to the fun stuff, give advice, and catch a “first” before we went back home, told us that he needed solids. He was five months and a few days, and we said no. He might want it – in fact, he definitely wanted it – but he didn’t need it.
When Shlomo was five months and one week, my family went to visit a lakeside cottage; we had been invited to go with, but the technical details did not work out, and so we stayed behind, with my grandmother, cousins, and Esther, who also couldn’t go for technical reasons. During the week that followed, Shlomo suddenly stopped sleeping as well as usual, stopped pooping during the day, and when he woke up at night and pooped, it was this weird poop (Yitzchak says it was “foamy”) that leaked all over. After a few days of this, Yitzchak picked up the phone and called his mother (ahem, ahem). She listened to the description and said, “Sounds like he’s ready for solids. Try giving him banana first and then oatmeal; those are two foods that practically nobody reacts to.”
I was peeved. I had wanted to wait until six months. Helloo, the baby’s gut takes about six months to fully close. But I told myself that evidently Shlomo’s gut was showing signs of readiness two weeks early, and five months, two weeks, was still pretty good. We went out, bought some bananas, opened one partially, took a spoon, scraped some banana onto the spoon, and fed it to Shlomo (how I miss the banana-scraping days; oh, wait, we’ll soon be back there).
Abracadabra – that night, he went back to sleeping normally, pooping normally, and all was well. My mother had her wish (kind of; I don’t think she was wishing that this would happen while she was away vacationing), and my best-mother complex had taken a slight, but not too serious, hit. We took bananas with us on the plane home, and fed them to our five-months-two-and-a-half-week-old. Shlomo’s first solid foods had been eaten not at home, but at his great-grandmother’s house. (And he loved it, by the way.)
This, then, is the answer: Your baby’s gut is ready for solid food when they don’t poop on their regular schedule, their poop is weird foam, and they’re not sleeping well.
Lately, Tova has been pooping later and later in the day, and making only one or two poops, as opposed to her usual three or four. They are also very liquidy, instead of the regular seedy. Is this her version of foam? Or should we wait? For the moment, we are waiting. We have time; there’s no rush.
Plus, there are three very nice advantages to breastmilk-only poop: 1. You don’t have to take her out of a synagogue, or stop praying, just because she made a poop. 2. Most (95%) of the poop that gets on her clothes doesn’t leave any kind of mark, even without stain treatment. Of the remaining 5%, if I put stain remover onto it once, it comes out 99% of the time. Which means that between two breastfed kids, I have maybe two or three garments that were stained, truly stained, by breastmilk poop. 3. Ditto for breastmilk spit-up – I don’t think I’ve had to use stain remover at all.
In other words, I really like the convenience of my baby’s bodily fluids not staining anything. And I will miss that when we add solids. On the other hand, after they start solids, the poop becomes more solidified and they spit up less. So it kind of (but not quite) evens out . . . right?