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The nutritional benefits of delaying the introduction of solids to your baby as long as possible are immense. One of the most important factors to consider in delaying solids is the baby's development while exclusively breastfed or taking formula. If the baby is healthy, alert, growing within normal guidelines, and happy, parents might want to think about the benefits of delaying solids (including cereal) until well into the second half of the first year of life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies should be exclusively breastfed for (at least) the first six months of life. Recent studies have shown that hydrochloric acid - used to digest most protein - doesn't even appear in the stomach until the end of the seventh month and doesn't reach a peak until the eighteenth month. In addition, ptyalin, the digestive juice for carbohydrates, doesn't appear until the end of the baby's first year.

La Leche League recommends "watching the baby, not the calendar" at this stage of life. This refers to the practice of watching the baby for cues that he or she will be receptive to the introduction of solids, rather than thinking that by a certain age, regardless of development the baby should be given solids. Some indisputable signs of this readiness include (but are not limited to):

1. Baby can sit up well and can support his or her own head
2. Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (automatically pushes foreign substances out of the mouth)
3. Readiness to chew, not just suck on objects
4. The ability to pick food up and put it in his or her mouth using a pincer-grasp (thumb & forefinger).
5. A long-term increased demand to nurse that is unrelated to illness, teething pain, a change in routine or a growth spurt.

Starting solids before a baby is ready can actually be detrimental to the baby's long-term health in the form of food allergies. Of course, not all food allergies can be avoided, and introducing solids later in the baby's first year of life is not an automatic cure, but it can significantly lower the child's risk of developing a food allergy and lessen the chance of developing respiratory problems. For breastfed infants, the longer a baby is exclusively breastfed with solids playing no part of his or her diet, the greater the baby's immune system will pick up immunities from the mother. The older the baby is, the better the digestive system will be able to break down food resulting in less digestive trauma in the cases of vomiting, diarrhea, gas, constipation, or cramps. Some studies have even suggested that early introduction of solids into a baby's everyday diet can be associated with increased body fat and weight in childhood.

The benefits of later introduction of solids is not just in the baby's favor. Perks for mom include the maintenance of her milk supply since solids usually replace milk feedings. If solids are introduced too soon, mother's milk supply may not be established enough to withstand the daily loss of one or more feedings. If a baby is not satisfied at the breast, he or she may wean prematurely. Finally, another benefit for mom is the convenience! Older babies are more coordinated and it won't be hard or long for them to make the transition from spoon-fed to feeding themselves.