Introducing your baby to solid foods is a fun and important milestone that many caregivers look forward to. It can also be a confusing one, given the conflicting but well-intended advice from friends and family that many caregivers receive. Got questions? Read on for more tips on how to introduce solids to your baby safely.
Is My Baby Ready for Solid Foods?
Prior to 4-6 months of age, a baby’s nutritional needs are met by breast milk or infant formula. Somewhere between 4 to 6 months of age, your baby may begin to show signs of readiness for solids. The following are some important considerations to keep in mind:
1. Can your baby keep herself upright in a supportive feeding chair?
Imagine trying to eat leaning back with your chin tucked into your chest. Not too easy, right? The same goes for babies! Waiting until your baby has developed enough strength in her trunk to keep body and head upright in a supported seated position allows her to protect her airway as she swallows food. It also allows her to give you signs that she wants more food (leaning in with an open mouth) or that she’s done (turning her head away or leaning back).
2. Does your baby show signs of interest?
If you’ve noticed your baby starting to watch you or others eat with eagerness, reaching for your food while you’re eating, or mimicking your chewing with lip smacking, she’s showing signs of interest!
3. Can your baby move solids from the front of the mouth to the back of the mouth?
It takes a lot of oral skills to be able to handle solids. While a newborn requires the ability to suck and swallow a liquid, eating a smooth puree requires the ability to use the lips and tongue to move food off a spoon and towards the back of the mouth in a controlled way. The disappearance of the tongue thrust reflex (a reflex in young infants triggered by something touching the front of the tongue) is an important requirement for a baby to begin solids. This reflex begins to disappear between 4-6 months of age. If your baby consistently thrusts her tongue and pushes food out in response to solids on a spoon, wait a few weeks and try again.
4. Are you an exclusively breastfeeding mother?
For mothers who exclusively breastfeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends continuing breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for the first 6 months, due to known health benefits for both infants and mothers.
Which Method is Best: Baby-led Weaning vs. Traditional Weaning?
If you’ve started talking to other families about how they started their baby on solids, you’ve probably heard a lot of opinions about traditional weaning versus baby-led weaning. (Side note: If you’ve heard advice about putting baby cereal in the bottle, we don’t recommend this approach unless your child’s provider advises you to for medical reasons.) What’s the difference between traditional weaning and baby-led weaning?
What is Traditional Weaning?
This involves offering your baby her first foods on a spoon. It allows a step-wise advancement of textures, beginning with smooth purees and then advancing to lumpy purees and finger foods as your baby’s oral skills of vertical munching (~7-9 months) and rotary chewing (~9-12 months) develop.
What is Baby-led Weaning (BLW)?
This increasingly popular approach is based on the philosophy that a healthy, normally developing baby should set the pace on their feeding, and is considered a natural extension of breastfeeding. It skips the spoon-feeding (considered “caregiver-led”) and starts with foods that can be held in the hands by the baby, who directs the whole process of self-feeding. Due to the fine motor, gross motor, and oromotor skills involved in BLW, it’s best suited for healthy, normally developing babies 6 months and up. Advocates of BLW feel this approach encourages a baby to follow her inner cues of fullness and hunger, and claim that this approach reduces the risk of child obesity, pickiness, and increases dexterity/hand-eye coordination. Critics fear it may increase the risk of choking.
What’s the Verdict?
There is no strong evidence that one approach is truly better than another with regards to obesity risk, pickiness, or dexterity, and either approach can be successful. Both traditional weaning and BLW can be valid options, and the choice depends on the preferences and needs of both the baby and her caregivers. BLW may not be suitable for every baby (talk to your child’s healthcare provider first to make sure that your baby is developmentally ready for BLW). Whether feeding our babies from the breast, bottle, or spoon, caregivers should always be responsive to a baby’s hunger cues, and should avoid forcing a baby to finish their food or bottle if they’re full. Choking risks may occur for both traditional and BLW methods if certain safety principles are not followed (see our section on Safety Tips).
Baby’s First Solid Foods & Bites
- Do I have to start with rice cereal? While rice cereal has been a traditional choice as a first food for babies, it’s not the only choice! Other gluten-free single grain cereals (e.g. baby oatmeal), vegetables, and fruits can a suitable first food as well.
- Is your baby exclusively breastfed? Meats and other iron-rich foods (e.g. peas, green beans, iron-fortified infant cereals) are encouraged as first foods for breastfed babies, in particular, due to their need for greater amounts of iron in their diets after 6 months of age compared to formula-fed babies. While beans and lentils may be difficult for infants to digest as a first food, they are great options for older babies as a source of iron, especially for vegetarian families.
- One ingredient at a time. While this is an exciting time for your baby to discover new flavors, this is also the time that food allergies may appear. When starting solids, it’s best to start with a single ingredient food and repeat it for 3-4 days before trying something new. Monitor for signs of allergic reaction (e.g. hives, wheezing/coughing, recurrent vomiting), particularly in the 3-hour window after eating. If an allergic reaction occurs, you’ll be more likely to identify the culprit than if you offered a food with multiple ingredients.
- Start slow. Start with a small amount of puree (either on your fingertip or on a baby spoon) and hold it close to her mouth. Wait for her to open her mouth and let her close her lips around the spoon or your fingertip to move it off the spoon. (Resist the urge to load up the spoon and wipe its contents off her upper lip in a forced “dump” into the mouth. Not only is this poor manners, but it forces your baby to handle an unexpected amount of food they might not be ready for, and trigger a gag. Not exactly the best first experience!) Your child’s first bite of solids may be accompanied by a less than enthusiastic response. But keep in mind that her dietary experience has been fairly limited up until this point! A child may need 8-10 tries before they develop a taste for a new food. If she doesn’t seem to like this particular food after a couple tries, wait a few weeks and try it again. And again.
- Keep it social. As much as possible, let your baby sit with the family during mealtimes and keep the TV off. Avoid using handheld screens as a distraction tool while feeding your baby. Eating is as much a social activity as it is a biologically necessary one, allowing an opportunity for your baby to connect emotionally with the people she loves most, and also allows opportunities for you to model what making healthy food choices looks like as she grows older!
- How much is enough? In the beginning, a 1-2 ounce serving once a day may be enough. As a baby becomes more skilled and eager, you can increase the volume and frequency according to their appetite. Most 6-8 month olds do well with two meals a day of 2-4 ounces (¼ – ½ cup) each, while most 9-11 month olds will eat 2-3 meals a day of 4-6 ounces (½ – ¾ cup) each. Keep in mind that before 12 months of age, solid foods are complimentary and should not replace breast milk or formula needs. Until 12 months of age, most infants need approximately 500 calories (about 24-25 ounces) per day from breast milk or formula. How much food a baby needs to eat depends on the baby! However, if your baby is eating so many solids that she no longer has room for her breast milk or formula, it may mean it’s time to scale back on her portion size.
- Are there minimum ages for when I can start dairy products, eggs, nut butters, or seafood? A growing body of research shows no evidence that delaying the introduction of certain foods reduces the risk of developing a food allergy. In fact, when it comes to peanut allergy, there is strong evidence that early introduction of peanut protein actually reduces the risk of developing peanut allergy in high-risk children. If you’re interested in introducing your baby to peanut protein early, discuss with your child’s healthcare provider to see if any special precautionary steps should be taken, first.
- Hold the salt & sugar. While adults and older children may enjoy foods with added salt or sugar, avoid adding them to your baby’s foods. In addition to immature kidneys making a higher salt intake risky (and sugar intake increasing cavity risks for infants with teeth), babies are learning to appreciate the natural flavors of foods. So help them to start off on the right foot.
Additional Safety Tips For Feeding Your Baby Solids
- All caregivers should take an infant emergency class so they can learn basic choking and CPR interventions.
- Avoid foods containing honey or chamomile before 12 months of age, due to the risks of infant botulism (a paralyzing condition caused by botulism spores that may be present in soil and soil-contaminated foods).
- Due to the combination of an immature immune system and the potential foodborne safety risks associated with certain foods, avoid feeding your baby unpasteurized dairy products, raw seafood, and undercooked meats. Scrub or rinse soil off fresh produce thoroughly before food preparation. Wash hands well before preparing your baby’s food, and avoid cross-contamination when preparing raw meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood.
- BLW Safety Considerations. The following are additional evidence-based safety tips when introducing solids by the BLW method.
|General Baby-led Weaning Safety Principles
|Foods to Avoid When Introducing Solids To Your Baby
Note: This blog contains general health information and does not constitute specific medical advice for your child. For specific questions, please contact your healthcare provider.