Mother’s breast milk is the best nutrition for a newborn baby. It continues to provide almost all the necessary energy and nutrients a baby needs for the first usually six months of life. After this period, breast milk alone cannot provide sufficient energy for the growing baby. This is the time to find solid food for baby to meet higher nutritional needs.
This “transition” period is very important for developing the infant’s immunity. This is when baby’s gut and immune system are exposed to new foods. During this period, some infants’ immune systems reject substances found in the newly introduced foods. The rejection or overreaction are what we call allergies.
Let’s be clear: ideally, breast milk should continue even though you have begun the transition to solid food for baby. Breast milk continues to provide beneficial nutrients up to at least one or two years of age.
What Solid Food For Baby To Watch Closely
Not all food is equally allergenic. Some foods are highly allergenic. Allergies to them are very common because of the proteins they contain. Some of them are animal milk, peanuts, tree nuts (cashews, pistachios, almonds, walnuts), soy, wheat, egg, fish, and shellfish. The list can vary according to regions and countries. You will notice that the list does not contain any fruits or vegetables. Few fruits and vegetables contain highly allergenic proteins, with a couple of exceptions.
We know that some infants are at a higher risk for developing allergies due to hereditary or environmental factors. Parents should be careful when selecting solid food for baby containing highly allergenic proteins. The latest research indicates that it is best to introduce such foods at four to six months of age.
When To Introduce Solid Foods
Let us understand why this is so. Scientists once urged potentially allergenic foods to be introduced later, at the age of nine to twelve months. Scientist thought this might prevent the development of allergies. This practice proved disappointing in the long run. Researchers discovered infants are more likely to develop atopic eczema if allergenic foods, such as milk or peanuts, are introduced after the age of six months. The same is true for children of less than four months of age. Infants introduced to solid foods before four months of age are more likely to develop food allergies.
Currently, most allergists believe that solid, highly allergenic foods should be introduced between four to six months of age with continued breastfeeding, because breast milk contains substances that help the gut’s immune system to better accept the new proteins. This is known as tolerance. So introducing solids with the support of breast milk is the best way to reduce the chances of developing allergies.
Please note that this is the preferred strategy for allergy prevention. The benefits of human breast milk, however, are numerous—it improves overall immunity, prevents respiratory and gut infections, boosts brain development, and many others. Hence, in developing countries where infections are more common, exclusive breastfeeding is preferred up to six months of age and solids are introduced at, rather than before, six months.
So, the timing of introducing solids should be individualized, considering that infant’s risk of developing allergies after detailed discussion of the pros and cons with your pediatrician or allergist.