Introducing solids while breastfeeding
Getting ready to start solids? Tot Lactation Expert Rebecca Agi MS, IBCLC shares tips on when to start, what to offer and how breastfeeding plays a role throughout the process.
Starting your tot on solids is one of the most wonderful first-year milestones, but like many other parts of parenting, everyone will give you their opinion on when to start, how to start, and what to start with. So, here are some facts that can help you figure out the best way to introduce your baby to a brand new world of flavors and textures.
When to start
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 your baby:
- has good head and neck control and can sit upright when supported
- shows 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
Which method to choose
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:
- 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.
- Set a meal time. Choose a specific time each day and try to stick to it. Mornings or early afternoons are ideal since you’ll be able to monitor any adverse reactions.
- 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.
- 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.
What about breast milk?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.