How and when to start solids
If you find yourself wondering how or when you should start introducing solids into your baby’s diet, trust us — you are not alone. Lactation Consultant, Rebecca Agi, weighs in.
If you’ve looked to the internet for answers about introducing solids, you may have found yourself wondering which of the countless theories is the right one for your baby. The following is a brief overview of the ‘hows’ and ‘whens’ of starting solids.
When to start baby on solids?
According to breastfeeding experts and guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), it’s best to wait until your baby is six months old before introducing any food other than breast milk. Previous guidelines recommended starting solids earlier (around four months) but new research shows that waiting until six months allows your baby’s digestive system to mature, reduces the risk of obesity in the future, protects against iron deficiency anemia, and helps maintain your milk supply. By six months, infants have depleted the iron stores that they had received in utero, so it’s the perfect time to start adding iron-rich foods to their diet.
Signs your baby is ready to start solids include:
- Good head and neck control and can sit upright when supported
- An interest in food by watching you eat intently or reaching out for your food
- Opens her mouth when you offer her food on a spoon
Is there a correct way to introduce solids?
Until recently, the traditional method for introducing solids was in puree form: a single food is blended to a smooth consistency and spoon-fed to the baby. As the baby tries more and larger amounts of food, parents gradually introduce thicker and lumpier textures, then move from spoon-feeding to finger foods. Parents like this method because they know exactly how much food the baby is eating and that they are getting the right nutrients. Besides, it’s easy to bring jars and pouches of pureed foods when out and about.
Another method of introducing solid foods, widespread in the United Kingdom and now gaining popularity in the US is Baby-Led Weaning (BLW). It skips purees altogether and goes right from breastfeeding (or bottle feeding) to self-feeding manageable finger foods. Weaning refers to the gradual introduction of solid foods. BLW allows the baby to respond to his satiety cues, encourages independent eating, helps develop fine motor skills, and exposes baby to a wide variety of new tastes, textures and smells. This approach can give your growing child a healthy interest in food. Although there isn’t much research available yet, experts believe that this method can reduce the risk of ending up with a picky eater. Parents should watch for specific signs of readiness before starting BLW, so be sure to research this method if it sparks your interest.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while preparing for the transition to solids:
- One new food at a time: The key to introducing new foods is with each food you introduce, wait 2 to 3 days before introducing the next food. This is to make sure your child does not have an allergy to the food and also to allow your child’s digestive track to adjust to the solids. During these few days watch for signs of a rash, diarrhea, or vomiting. If one of these signs is present contact your doctor and hold off on introducing new foods. However, be aware that loose stool is a common occurrence when new foods are introduced to your child as it is new to their systems.
- Take it slow. Starting solids can be a little overwhelming for everyone involved. Start the baby on one meal per day – ideally after breastfeeding. You can gradually increase the portion as the baby’s appetite increases.
- Offer sips of water with meals. Once solids are introduced around 6 months, water can be given with meals. Just a few sips can help prevent constipation and get your baby used to the flavor and routine of drinking water. Before one, avoid giving water at any other time of the day.
- Variety is important. According to the AAP and nutrition experts, introducing baby to a wide variety of flavors and textures is an important part of the process. Within a few months of introducing solids, ensure your child has a well balanced diet that includes, breast milk /formula, meats, cereal, vegetables, fruits, eggs, and fish.
- Keep meal times safe: To avoid choking, make sure baby’s first foods are soft, cut into small pieces and easy to swallow.
- Model good behavior. Babies aren’t born with a desire to eat a balanced diet full of leafy greens and lean protein. Eating well is a learned habit, which is why modeling good food behavior is so important.
- Follow baby’s lead. Let your baby decide how much he wants to eat. If he starts throwing food on the floor or closes his mouth tight, mealtime is over.
- Get used to the mess. Babies are messy eaters, especially when they are just learning. Keeping a wet washcloth nearby and placing a mat underneath the baby’s highchair can help keep the mess under control.
- The no-no list. Not many foods are off-limits except for honey (even in baked goods) and cow’s milk as a beverage. You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with choking hazards such as whole nuts, thick nut butters, popcorn, hard candies, raw carrots, chunks of raw apple, whole cherry tomatoes, whole grapes, and hotdogs. Some of these foods can be safely modified. Also, no juice before 12 months and only 4oz of 100% fruit juice per day after 12 months because too much juice can cause poor nutrition, obesity and tooth decay.
- Limit salt. Salt should be limited to one gram per day which is equivalent to 400 milligrams of sodium or one pinch of salt. Low-salt foods can still be flavorful, just add spices or herbs to expose your baby to new flavors. Remember, all foods are new to your baby so something that may taste bland to you is still completely new for them.
- Take an infant CPR course. An infant CPR class can give you peace of mind and help you feel confident to assist your child if there is an accident, such as choking.
- What about allergies? If there is a family history of food allergies, consult your doctor or allergist for advice on when to start your baby on allergenic foods which can include strawberries, eggs, fish, dairy, nuts and soy etc.
How much food should I give my baby?
The World Health Organization recommends that infants start receiving complementary foods at 6 months of age in addition to breast milk, initially 2-3 times a day between 6-8 months, increasing to 3-4 times daily between 9-11 months and 12-24 months with additional nutritious snacks offered 1-2 times per day, as desired.
The key is to follow your child’s cues of being full. These signs could include:
- turning away their head
- pushing the food away
- using a verbal cue
It is important to learn how your child shows he is full and acknowledge that cue. As your child learns to eat more, the intake of breast milk may decrease some. Each child is different—some gravitate more towards solids and will take less milk or formula, and others will take longer to embrace solid foods. Your pediatrician will help support and monitor appropriate weight gain. Work with your child and help them learn to gauge when they are full, and learn routines around set meal times.
Introducing solids while breastfeeding
Breast milk (or formula) remains the primary source of nutrition throughout the first year of life to ensure proper growth and development. As complementary foods are introduced, breastfeeding should continue at the same rate as before. As your baby begins to eat larger amounts of solid food, your milk supply will naturally and gradually decrease. Most importantly, follow baby’s lead, take things slow, and always offer breast milk before solids.
Creating a meal time routine for your baby
Your child is learning many things during mealtime including, how to feed herself, learning how much to eat, exploring and experiencing various textures and tastes, learning to focus on eating during mealtimes, and that mealtimes can be enjoyable. It is important to establish a routine around meal times, as these early experiences allow you to set strong lifelong habits around eating. Offer a variety of healthy foods for your child to explore and experience. One of the best ways of supporting your child is to enjoy meals together as a family as much as possible. Research shows that this has an incredibly positive effect on your child’s development!
Starting solids is an important new stage in your baby’s development. With some planning, and by letting baby take the lead, it can be an exciting new experience for both of you.
More on meal times
Ready to start the exciting (and messy) journey with solids? See out section on Bowls, Plates & Utensils to get you started.
In addition to enjoying a meal together as a family, it is important to keep meal times positive and let your child get messy! But just how messy? See our article on How messy should kids get at meal times?