Introducing solid food can be daunting. Around six months, babies are settling into a nice and “predictable” routine, so parents may be hesitant to start anything different that might disrupt this new found flow. However, parents fear not! A new study by King’s College London found that children introduced to solids early slept longer, woke up less frequently and had fewer serious sleep problems when compared with babies who were exclusively breastfed up to six months. We all know that when baby sleeps through the night, mom and dad are more rested, leading to a better quality of life for the whole family!
The current officially recommended age to introduce solids is “approximately” six months. When counseling parents, I always try to have them identify signs that their child is ready to start solid foods to help clarify the “approximate”. Some signs of readiness include:
- Baby can sit up well without support.
- Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex and does not automatically push solids out of his mouth with his tongue.
- Baby is eager to participate in mealtime and may try to grab food and put it in his mouth.
- Baby is developing a “pincer” grasp, where he picks up food or other objects between thumb and forefinger. Using the fingers and scraping the food into the palm of the hand (palmar grasp) does not substitute for pincer grasp development.
First foods are about teaching your child how to eat. At this point, feeding your child solids is not necessarily about fulfilling nutritional requirements. The main source of your child’s calories and nutrients will still come from breast milk or formula. That doesn’t mean parents need to start with unhealthy foods, but just offers some peace of mind that your child doesn’t need to finish all of those pureed peas for the sake of his health.
I like to remind parents that pre-packaged baby food is a convenience, not a necessity. You can totally skip that expensive aisle in the grocery store (if you want!) and adapt your family’s diet for baby. Some great options for first foods can be avocados, bananas and yogurt. These foods are easily mashable and you can add a bit of water or breastmilk to change up the consistency if needed. Steamable bags of veggies that you blend or puree also make for easy options. When pureeing fruit and veggies, portion out the food into an ice cube tray and freeze the extra. That makes mealtime easy and less stressful. Simply pop the portion out of the tray when needed, heat it up and you’ve got a meal!
Try introducing vegetables prior to sweet fruits - this recommendation is not backed by research but theoretically, they may prefer the sweeter fruits if given prior to the “boring” veggies! Introduce one new food every three days so that in case there is any allergic reaction to a food, you can pinpoint what might have caused the reaction. Then, have fun mixing and matching different combinations like avocado and sweet potato, peas and carrots or broccoli and chicken. It’s fun to see what your child gravitates toward. And remember, just because your child doesn’t like something the first time doesn’t mean they won’t like it the second time… or third, or fourth… it’s okay to keep trying!
In terms of the actual logistics, I usually recommend starting with once a day feedings and working your way up to the typical meal times. Make sure he is sitting straight up in a high chair. This allows your baby to feel more comfortable and is much safer than if they are reclined in a bouncer, etc. Wait for your baby to pay attention before you start to feed him - this is typically easier if you can feed before nursing or giving them a bottle, since they are likely to be more hungry than right after being fed. Don’t shove food into his mouth, remember this is just for them to learn how to eat, not for nutrition. When your baby has lost interest, don’t feel the need to keep making him eat. When possible have baby eat when you or his siblings eat. Feeling included starts at an early age!
Letting your baby feed herself is also encouraged. This may be messy, but is pretty darn cute and super fun to watch. This is a great time to introduce a sippy cup (preferably filled with water) to your baby as well. I know a lot of parents think juice is a must, but really, most juices contain way more sugar than you think. I’m not saying you should never give your child juice, but I like to reserve it as a treat rather than a daily occurrence.
Lastly, don’t forget to read our blog post about the new peanut butter introduction guidelines. This is very important and could potentially prevent a peanut allergy.
There will be many successes and failures when introducing solid foods, so try not to stress too much. Your child will come around to foods on his own terms and time, but just support them and encourage them on the journey. If you have any questions, I’m always here to help! Bon appetit!