Starting Baby on solids can be both an exciting and nerve-racking time for most parents. On one hand, you are excited for them to be growing and developing. On the other hand, this opens up the possibility for dangers like choking or allergies. Here are some of the signs and tips for starting baby on solids.
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When are babies ready to start trying solid food?
Most experts will agree, babies should start solid food around the time they are 6 months old. Every child is different and you should talk to your pediatrician to make sure your child is ready for solid food. Some signs to look out for include:
- The ability to sit up unsupported
- Good head stability
- Your baby will open their mouth and lean towards the food when offered
Why should you start solids?
You might be wondering why your baby needs solids at all within that first year. Some parents are under the assumption that breastmilk or formula is all your baby needs until they are one year old. Although breastmilk and/or formula can and should be the main source of nutrition during this period, there are a few reasons why it is important to start solids around 6-8 months.
As moms, our bodies provide babies with all the iron they need while they are in our bellies. When babies are born, they have enough iron stores to last them about 6 months before we need to start supplementing them. Premature babies or babies with a low birth weight may need iron sublimation before this, and you should talk to your pediatrician if you are concerned at all. This is especially critical in breastfed babies, as breast milk usually does not have as much iron in it as formula.
When you start solid foods, make sure to include iron-rich foods. Some of these foods include iron-fortified baby cereal (like oatmeal), pureed meats, and pureed beans. Once your child gets the hang of eating, you can start including other sources of iron like red meat, chicken, fish, beans, and dark leafy greens. You can accompany these iron-rich foods with vitamin C, which helps absorption. Some vitamin C rich foods you can try citrus fruit, melons, strawberries, bell pepper, and more dark leafy greens.
Great for Development
Providing a variety of textures helps teach your child how to chew, which helps with your baby’s speech development. Moving the food around their mouth and exploring with their tongue is also great for improving coordination and their muscles. Once they start self feeding, this is a great way to improve hand-eye coordination along with fine motor skills. In addition to the more obvious skills, babies also improve their gross motor, visual, cognitive, communicative, and emotional/social development. The act of self-feeding helps strengthen their back, arms, and hands, improves coordination, fine-tunes oral motor skills, and helps with their overall independence. It is truly amazing how such simple tasks (like eating) can help with so many different aspects of a child’s development.
When you first start introducing solids, your baby will gag, cough, and will most likely spit most of the food out. This is normal, and is their way of exploring and learning how to move the food around their mouth. It also allows them to use their gag reflex, which is a great mechanism to help with actual choking. It is always a great idea to sign up and take an infant CPR class so you know how to handle the situation in an emergency.
Purees vs Baby Led Weaning
I’m sure you’ve heard of baby purees, as this is what comes to most minds when you hear the term “baby food”. However, Baby Led Weaning is a term that most people don’t hear about until they have kids of their own. This term can be misleading, because it sounds like you are weaning your child from something – either breastmilk or formula comes to my mind.
Baby led weaning was first popularized in the UK and encourages skipping purees completely when introducing solids. This method allows for baby to feed themselves, eat what they want, and decide when they are done on their own. It usually results in feeding items off of your own plate and preparing more finger foods. The concept behind it is great – we are allowing our children to have independence when it comes to food, and we are not forcing them to finish what’s left in the jar. However, most advocates of this method follow a very strict approach and are completely against using purees at all.
We followed a more lax approach, and some people refer to this as baby-led feeding. In our house, we started with purees as our son got the hang of moving food around his mouth and exploring. We started with iron fortified oatmeal mixed with breast milk. As he started to learn how to eat, swallow, and explore the food, we started to introduce more foods. Some meals we would introduce strict purees that I blended up while other days we would feed him items from our plates. He loved getting pieces of avocado, bananas, and steamed veggies. As he gets older, we are moving away from the purees and trying to incorporate more finger foods so he can work on his hand/eye coordination along with fine motor skills as he attempts to pick up food and bring it to his mouth.
There is no wrong way to go about feeding your child. As always, every baby is different and what works best for our family may not be what’s best for yours (and vice versa). Although some may suggest it, you do not have to decide on one method and stick to it. Give each a try, combine them, and see what you prefer.
What foods to try based on age.
Start with fruits and vegetables that are mild tasting and are easy to digest. Add in other foods while continuing to try the earlier suggestions. Studies have shown that sometimes you have to offer the same food 20 or more times before your baby will begin to like it or even be willing to try it. If your child doesn’t seem to like a certain food, don’t get discouraged. Some studies recommend only introducing one new food every 3-5 days so you can watch for allergic reactions. Talk with your pediatrician about this, but our nutritionist and pediatrician informed us this is no longer as big of a concern unless your family has a history of food allergies.
- Breastmilk or Formula only
Around 6 Months
Standard food/ Purees
- Iron fortified baby food
- Vegetables – sweet potato or squash pureed
- Fruits – apples, bananas, or peaches pureed
- Pureed meat – chicken, pork, beef
Baby Led Weaning
- Soft cooked apple slices
- Soft ripe fruit slices (peaches, pears, nectarines, plums)
- Steamed veggie sticks (carrots, green beans, broccoli florets)
- Soft cooked squash and sweet potato
Standard food/ Purees: most of the items are similar to what was listed before, but you can start making the purees a little thicker and allowing for a bit more texture
- Pureed fruits – pears, avocado
- Pureed veggies – pumpkin, squash, etc.
- Beans (Pureed)
Baby Led Weaning
- Fruit slices and pieces
- Peeled and cooked parsnips, zucchini, and pumpkin
- Cooked and tender meats – chicken, turkey, and white fish (watch for bones)
- Pasta pieces, unsalted rice cakes, toast, and breadsticks
Right around this time, your child should be able to start picking items up with their finger and thumb (pincer grasp). You can start introducing more finger foods, if you haven’t already.
- Small amounts of pasteurized cheese
- Unsweetened yogurt
- Mashed fruits and vegetables – doesn’t have to be pureed
- Blueberries, melons, and cut up pieces of grapes or cherries
- Scrambled eggs
- Potato, pasta, small pieces of bagel, toast
- Small pieces of meat, chicken, fish, tofu, and beans
- Baby snacks like melties or cheerio-shaped snacks.
Now that your child is older, you can include more acidic fruits and more dense foods.
- Strawberries, tomatoes, raspberries, kiwi, oranges
- Sweet corn
- Combo foods (mac n’ cheese, casseroles, etc.)
Food to Avoid
Although most foods are safe for baby to try (if prepared properly), there are a few things you should avoid during the first year of their life.
According to KidsHealth, “babies younger than 1 year old should not be given honey. Clostridium bacteria that cause infant botulism usually thrive in soil and dust. They also can contaminate some foods — honey, in particular.” The honey can contain spores that are dangerous to infants, as their digestive systems are not advanced enough. This can be very serious and has been known to affect your infant’s ability to move, eat, and even breathe. Once your child is 1 year old, their digestive systems can move the spores through their body before it can do any harm. Although these cases are rare, it’s best to avoid any chances.
Calcium does the opposite of Vitamin C when it comes to iron absorption. Too much calcium in your diet can actually impede the proper absorption of iron, leaving your baby with a deficiency. Infants already have lower iron stores, so they cannot afford to cut down any more. In addition, whole milk proteins and fats can be harder for your infant to digest. The AAP recommends waiting until your child is at least 12 months old before introducing cow’s milk into their diet.
Some common high-risk foods include hot dogs, cheese chunks, grapes, raw veggies, or large pieces of fruit. You can avoid the risk by cutting these items up into very small pieces so they aren’t a choking hazard. You will also want to avoid hard foods that don’t soften easily like seeds, nuts, or hard candies.
Starting solids can be a scary thing when it comes to choking, but there are so many amazing benefits to this new milestone. Try out different methods and find a routine that works well for you and your family. Don’t be afraid to introduce your baby to foods you may not be a fan of. I hate all seafood, but my son loves salmon and other types of fish! You might be surprised with how open they are to try out new flavors and textures.
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AAP “Nutrition in Toddlers”: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2006/1101/p1527.html
CDC “When, What, and How to Introduce Solid Foods”: https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/foods-and-drinks/when-to-introduce-solid-foods.html#targetText=Your%20child%20can%20begin%20eating,yogurts%20and%20cheeses%2C%20and%20more.
KidsHealth “Can I Feed My Baby Honey?”: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/honey-botulism.html#targetText=Yes%2C%20babies%20younger%20than%201,thrive%20in%20soil%20and%20dust.&targetText=As%20kids%20get%20older%2C%20they,before%20they%20can%20cause%20harm.