Welcome to an adventure full of mess and happy giggles! After thorough research, we have compiled in this guide all the advice you need to safely start introducing solid foods to your baby. If you have got the green light from your health care provider, read on to get all the answers to your why, when, what, and how.
Why should you Introduce solids?
You might be wondering while you are feeding your baby breastmilk or formula why you should introduce solids at all. Your baby seems pretty content with his daily nursing sessions. And after more or less 4 months of being together, you might have already figured out a comfortable routine for feeding your baby and came to enjoy those special bonding moments. Well let’s look at the benefits of including solids in your baby’s diet and you will probably change your mind.
Benefits of solids for baby
During her stay in your womb, your baby had all the amounts of iron he needed. As your baby grows, his iron stores begin to go down. They reach an all-time low by the age of 6 months.
In fact, if your baby is exclusively breastfed, he would be at increased risk of iron deficiency after only four months of age.
That’s why it becomes especially crucial to introduce sources of iron. But you don’t have to worry about that. Your baby’s iron needs can be met in a variety of ways. One of which is the introduction of solid foods.
In addition to this important benefit, introducing solids to baby will open the door for a world of new tastes and experiences. As you offer your baby things to taste, you allow her to discover different tastes and textures, she learns to eat and appreciate all kinds of foods.
Most importantly, this provides her with an opportunity to put her chewing skills into practice. Knowing that chewing helps with speech development, you might be even more eager to start the process! The first “mommy” or “daddy” could be just around the corner.
Are solids a replacement for breastmilk or formula?
The answer is no. Around 4 to 6 months of age, the foods you offer your baby are not supposed to cover his needs in nutrients. Breastmilk or formula will actually remain the main source of nutrition during the first year of your baby. The aim in this first stage of solid introduction is to help your baby transition as naturally as possible from breast or formula feeds to having solids.
So during this time of transition, you’ll want to treat your baby’s mealtimes, outside of nursing, as practice sessions. While you can rest assured that your breastmilk or formula continues to provide the majority of basic nutrients your baby needs.
When should you introduce solids?
The exact optimal moment of solid introduction is still up for debate. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) recommends introducing baby to solids around 6 months of age, it also strongly frowns upon offering solids before 4 months.
Starting solids prior to 4 months is linked to higher risks of developing obesity both in infancy and early childhood. Research also points to an increased risk of eczema, celiac disease, diabetes, and a myriad of other ailments. So we can only advise you against that.
The key element here is listening to your baby. Rather than watching the calendar, pay close attention to signs of readiness. These signs can vary from one baby to another. Here are the most common ones we have gathered to serve you as guidelines:
- Sits upright – with no or little support from mom, dad, or an appropriate seat. This can happen as early as 6 months, but mastering the sitting skill can occur anywhere between 7 and 9 months of age.
- Holds up her head – Your baby would gain enough strength in the neck muscles to do so over the first six months of life. It is important to wait for this milestone before offering your baby solid food. Choking might be an issue if your baby can’t stay in a vertical position that allows him to swallow properly.
- The tongue-thrust reflex starts to fade – That means that your baby can now keep food in her mouth and doesn’t automatically eject it. It also means that she begins to learn how to use her tongue to move food from the front of her mouth to the back.
- Opens her mouth – when she sees something coming her way. Or even reaches out to put various things in her mouth.
- Shows curiosity – Pay attention to your baby while you are having your lunch or dinner. If she can’t take her eyes off your food and watches you with a drooling mouth, then that’s a definite sign she wants to join the feast!
All that being said, do not go over and beyond to make your baby eat solids. Let her tell you she’s ready to dive into this new chapter.
How to introduce solids?
Now that both you and your baby are ready to go on the adventure of solid foods. You need to know how to do that and where to start exactly. First of all, take it easy. As we said previously, this is a transition period and you should be able to enjoy the process as there is not much at stake (yet!).
At the beginning of your food journey, you don’t have to worry about nutrition. The idea is to get your baby used to chewing and swallowing. Don’t worry if your baby just nibbles on the food you give her and makes faces. It is part of the process.
If your baby is under 6 months of age, you can start by offering pureed food. You can use a baby food steamer and blender to make this task a lot easier. Give this stage as much time as your baby needs.
Introduce new tastes first and then move on to new textures. To make the experience less overwhelming for your baby, give him food that has almost the same consistency as what he’s used to. This is a tasting phase. Once your baby is happily suckling on thin purees off the spoon, you can start challenging her with thicker purees. This will get her to use her mouth differently, and she will soon be ready for stage two of the adventure.
Preparing food for your baby doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s a step by step video that shows you how to make fruit purees for your baby:
When your baby keeps most of the spoonfuls of food you give her in her mouth and swallows them, you can start experimenting with different textures.
Try dissolvable foods that can soften in your baby’s mouth even if she doesn’t chew them. You can also try using a mesh feeder where you can put pieces of fruits like strawberries or watermelon. This is a fun and safe way of encouraging your baby to chew larger chunks of food.
Remember, during these early stages, let your baby decide whether to eat and how much to eat.
What foods to start with?
So what should we be eating exactly? Of course, you’ll want to give the best to your baby. Here we’ll cover baby’s first solids that you can start with to make your journey as smooth as possible.
Best first foods for baby
When it comes to baby’s first foods, there are no clear rules to follow. Putting aside some foods to avoid in the first year, you can try whatever is available and in season. Here are some ideas to get you going:
- Baby cereal – This is an easy training food that you can include seamlessly in your baby’s diet. Baby cereal is considered by many pediatricians the best baby first food, generally, because it is easy to digest and iron-fortified. So it should help meet your baby’s needs in nutrients especially iron, but also zinc, calcium, and vitamins B, C, and E. You can choose from a variety of grains such as rice, oat, barley, or a mix of those grains later on. If you are concerned about the levels of toxins that can be present in store-bought baby cereal, you can choose organic brands or simply skip this option.
- Veggies – Sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, broccoli. These veggies are packed with vitamins and fiber, and you can easily puree them when you’re just starting baby on solids.
- Fruits – Apples, pears, bananas, avocados, mango. These ones are some of the easiest fruits to start with, but all fruits are actually recommended as long as you prepare them appropriately.
- Iron-rich foods – Meats, fish, tofu, beans, egg yolk, lentils. Your growing baby needs his iron to help her brain develop, so be sure to include some of these iron-rich foods in her diet. Just make sure that the meat is soft and the fish is boneless!
The categories of baby first foods we mentioned above are listed from easy to more challenging. But you can experiment with them in any order you like.
Pay attention to the textures. At first stick with smooth or finely mashed foods and build your way up to soft pieces. You can also directly give relatively big chunks of soft veggies or fruits to your baby and watch her discover the colors and tastes of her food.
Variety is very important. Even if your baby seems to have found a favorite food, keep offering different ones. This will pave the way for healthy eating habits later.
Allergenic foods for baby
New research shows that early (at 4 to 6 months) introduction of allergenic foods to a baby’s diet was associated with reduced risk of allergic diseases. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued new nutrition guidelines saying that you can introduce allergy-causing foods as soon as your baby starts solids. And more professional organizations are responding to these findings by advising the early introduction of allergenic foods in order to prevent the development of allergies in childhood.
Some of the most common allergy-causing foods are peanuts, eggs, cow’s milk, nuts, soy, sesame, wheat, and seafood. Try not to introduce new foods all at once. Rather offer only one new food every three days. If your baby develops a reaction you will know who’s the culprit immediately!
In any case, check with your health care provider if you suspect an allergic reaction to food.
How to feed your baby?
So you know what food you’ll offer your baby, and how to prepare it. And most importantly, you have decided that your baby is ready. Now it’s mealtime! The first times you’ll try to feed your baby, you gotta be prepared for some mess and lots of fun.
But first, choose the right timing. Pick a time where both you and your baby are relaxed. You might want to wait until after you have fed your baby breastmilk or formula before offering solid food. Your baby should only be moderately hungry. This will prevent her from getting frustrated and fussy when trying solids.
Sit your baby on your lap, or position her in an infant seat. If you choose an infant seat make sure your baby is in an upright position and strapped correctly. You’ll want your baby to have a bib on. This will save you some laundry.
Use a soft spoon to protect your baby’s gums in case he bites it. And if he doesn’t like the spoon, you can always use your finger to pick a small amount of food and put it in your baby’s mouth. It is important to start slow. Portion very small amounts of food, that you can gradually increase as your baby grows and develops a bigger appetite for solids.
Keep these feeding sessions fun! You can try talking or singing while feeding baby solids. Don’t hesitate to make “yummy” sounds when driving the spoon or your finger towards her mouth. If she makes faces when tasting food it doesn’t mean she doesn’t like it. Give her enough time to discover this new taste. And in any case, never force her to take extra spoonfuls.
Foods to avoid
The list of foods and drinks to avoid introducing in the first year of your baby’s life is not very long. Here are the most common foods you need to stay away from if your baby is under 1 year old:
- Honey – even in very small quantities. This is a major health threat to your baby if she’s under 12 months of age. The Food and Drug Administration reminds parents not to feed honey to babies, as it can cause infant botulism. Botulism is a rare but serious illness that you want to stay away from.
- Unpasteurized foods – Raw milk and products made from it are not safe. They can carry harmful bacteria and other germs. So you should also avoid cream, cheeses, yogurt, and any food that has raw milk in it.
- Choking hazards – Nuts and seeds and any piece of solid food that is big enough to get stuck in your baby’s throat or get lodged in his windpipe. Put close attention to what your baby is putting in her mouth, even outside of your feeding sessions. Try cutting up food into small pieces or mashing it to reduce the risk of choking.
- Raw or undercooked meat – This applies to meat, poultry, egg, fish, and shellfish. It may cause food poisoning as your baby is especially vulnerable to bacteria. Also, remember to always wash your hands after touching raw meat and before preparing your baby’s food.
- Seasoning – Your baby doesn’t need added salt and sugar or spices. It’s actually a good idea to introduce the original tastes of food to your baby.
Other than these major red flags, it is good to know that you should avoid cow’s milk as the main drink. Water is also unnecessary at this stage. Fruit juice even if it sounds healthy is no longer recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Your breastmilk or formula is more than enough liquids!
Before you go
The first encounters your baby will have with food are special. You’ll want to get your camera ready to capture those cute first reactions! But you should also remember that you are setting the tone for a lifelong relationship with nutrition. Make it as safe and healthy as you possibly can. Let your baby learn that respecting her body and her needs is as important as getting fed. And enjoy the journey!