Introducing solids to your baby’s diet can be an exciting milestone for a parent. It is a sign that your little baby is growing, ready to take on new and bigger things. As the time arrives though, many parents become anxious about the do’s and don’ts when starting on solids.
Luckily, while there are a few precautions to be wary of, you have quite a bit of flexibility and freedom when starting your baby on solids.
The important thing is to establish a healthy eating relationship between your baby and their food. This will encourage a positive attitude towards eating and help create healthy portion control. Helping your baby enjoy the mealtime experience will have lifetime benefits, and it will make feeding time much more enjoyable for both of you!
Most of the medical community agree that your baby should start solid foods at around 6 months old. Your baby will start showing signs of being ready to wean at around about this age, and you will be able to tell when they are properly ready to start solids.
Signs your baby is ready to start solids:
• Your baby is interested in the food on your plate and often reaches out to grab it.
• Your baby is able to sit upright unsupported with strong neck support and balance.
• Your baby has lost the tongue reflex – this is a reflex that young babies have which forces objects out of their mouths. This helps prevent choking.
• Your baby is able to grasp objects between the thumb and forefinger and move his hand to his mouth.
• Your baby can make chewing motions with his mouth.
Whether you breastfeed or formula feed, many parents wonder if adding solids means that they need to cut back on milk intake. This really isn’t the case. Your baby does a good job at regulating how much milk they need, and they will definitely let you know if they are still wanting more milk.
Start slowly in the beginning. Solids should not act as a substitute for milk but are merely a way of introducing your baby to the big wide world of tastes and texture.
For the first year of life, milk should still be their primary source of nutrition.
Here are the do’s and don’ts for introducing solids to your baby:
DO start slowly
Don’t expect your baby to finish up bowls of food in the first few weeks, or even months. You actually don’t want them to be doing this. The goal is purely to expose them to different foods, textures, and tastes. Even a spoonful a feed in the first few weeks is okay.
DON’T force feed
If your baby isn’t too excited to be eating solids at first, don’t stress. Some babies just take a little longer to get used to the idea of eating solids. Keep trying with different foods and textures, but don’t force feed your baby. By force-feeding, you will be creating a negative association with food, which could cause bad eating habits going forward. To try to create a fun, positive attitude towards meal times, get your baby to finger feed and attempt to feed themselves with a spoon. It might be messy, but messy is fun for your baby, and it is a great way to help them develop fine motor skills.
DO use fresh foods
Traditionally babies are started on rice cereals, but there is no reason to stick to this. Instead, start with fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. Banana, pumpkin and sweet potato are all great options to try at first. Cook them until soft and mash them up. They will have a wonderful smell and taste that will help your baby become excited about food.
DON’T wait to introduce a variety
Once your baby has got the hang of the basics of solids, you can start adding some shredded meat, egg yolk, and brown rice cereals. The more variety you present, the better. While you should still introduce one food at a time to check for an allergic reaction, you do not have to limit the potential allergens you could introduce. Eggs, seafood, wheat, and sesame are a few examples of foods that have always been considered allergens but are now encouraged to be introduced early and often if your child does not present an allergic reaction. Avoid introducing these foods when your baby is ill, and avoid introducing raw or under cooked meat or eggs.
By introducing a range of textures and flavors, you are expanding your baby’s taste palette and helping them develop a taste for a wide variety of foods. Once your baby is happy eating a particular food, you can go ahead and start them on something new, you don’t have to wait a few days between introducing new foods.
DO eat as a family
Nothing creates a positive association around food like eating as a family. Eating together around the table, even when your baby is still little, creates many great memories and will actually motivate your baby to eat a wider variety of foods. When watching you eat, they will want to copy your actions. It will encourage them to try different foods, and they will be able to pick up on the skills of feeding themselves by watching you do it.
DON’T avoid the flavor
Spices and different flavors are good for a baby. While you shouldn’t over-spice a meal, some added flavor here and there will help your baby develop their tastes and enjoy a wider variety of foods. If they aren’t introduced to flavor early, they might not want to try it later on when you introduce flavor into their meals.
DO have fun with texture
Many parents think that at 6 months old, their baby will only be able to manage very fine purees; but a baby can handle a variety of different textures and finger foods. Minced, shredded or mashed foods are all fine for a baby to eat, as long as there aren’t any choking hazards. By sticking to purees, you might be creating trouble for yourself when introducing lumps and textures further down the line.
DON’T limit feeding to a spoon
Finger foods are one of the best ways to feed your baby. Baby Led Weaning involves your baby feeding themselves with the food you put in front of them. This way they are choosing what they want to eat, how much they want to eat, as well as learning how to feed themselves. There is no risk of overfeeding, as soon as your baby is full, they stop eating. You just need to make sure that the finger foods are soft enough for your baby to eat, but not too soft that they cannot pick up and hold the food.
DO enjoy the mess
You can 100% expect a mess when starting your baby on solids, and even for the next few years. In the beginning, your baby might spit out food she doesn’t like, throw her bowl across the room, or even create a beautiful pureed apple painting on her feeding-chair tray. The mess is how they learn, and it is a way to encourage fun during feeding time.
DON’T give up
Many babies don’t take to solids straight away. It could take days, weeks or even months until they are comfortable eating solids. They might also be fussy with many different foods, you just need to keep going. Your baby will eventually get the hang of it, and with some persistence, even start eating the foods they didn’t like at first. There is no rush to get them on a solid diet, it is all about nurturing their love for food and creating a healthy relationship with eating.
No matter how much it may not feel like it at times, you as the parent are in charge of creating healthy eating habits and encouraging a good relationship with food for your child. They might be incredibly difficult at first when trying solids, but by remaining patient and keeping a happy energy during feeding times, you will achieve this.
Keep an eye out for signs that your baby is full or is done eating. Once they lose interest in their food, there is no point forcing it on them.A positive feeding relationship from day one will have lifelong benefits for your child.
Just remember that this is an entirely new experience for your baby, they have watched you eat, and have no idea what it would be like to try it out. Take it easy, take it slow, and just encourage fun (and sometimes messy) meal times. There is nothing better than a baby who loves their food, all thanks to mom and dad!