Many moms are unsure about when to start their babies on solids, and how to go about it. Registered dietician Julie Perks weighs in.
Starting solids is such an exciting milestone. Your little one has survived solely on milk until now, but requires additional nutrients from foods to continue growing. There is a lot of information available for you to use to guide you on this journey but I hope in this article to give you options and ideas to assist you during this very exciting time.
I say ‘exciting’, as often the introduction of solids can cause much stress and anxiety but I wish to encourage you that with sufficient planning and hopefully, this article, you’ll feel empowered to guide your baby through this next phase of their growth, and to ensure healthy food habits throughout their life.
The term ‘weaning’ is often used, however I think of weaning as stopping milk and replacing it with foods. This only occurs around 12 months, but you are encouraged to continue breastfeeding for as long as possible and can also continue with formula milk feeds after 12 months.
How to know when your baby is ready for solids
The ideal age to start your baby is when they show signs of readiness, which is often around six months. The aim is to ensure baby’s digestive system is ready, so often when the internal readiness stage is reached these external signs will be displayed.
- Able to sit on their own (not supported).
- Has no tongue thrust, and is therefore able to swallow (purées can also sometimes override this, so make sure baby is taking nicely from a spoon and you are not forcing it in).
- Has very good hand-eye co-ordination and is therefore able to bring food to their mouth
Signs often mistaken for readiness
- Baby is hungrier than usual (remember that babies at four months often go through a growth spurt. If you’re breastfeeding this allows your milk supply to increase with the increased demand from your baby, so by introducing solids your breastmilk supply will be affected.
- You want your baby to sleep through the night – don’t we all – but prematurely giving solids before they are developmentally ready isn’t advisable. Also, waking up more at night is not a sign.
- Chewing fists.
Solids are required generally around six months, which can coincide with babies’ increased iron and protein needs. Besides nutritional needs, babies have sensory requirements fulfilled by enjoying solids, so prepare to have mess and playtime around meals.
Now that you’ve established your baby is ready for solids, you’ll need a few items to help you. I would recommend you try to make your own foods, so you’ll need a steamer, blender and some ice cube trays and some storage bags. To reduce waste, try to get reusable silicone bags if possible. You’ll also need a bowl, spoons (often one for baby and one for you) and bibs, as well as a high chair or seating option for baby that they are sitting independently in.
I would recommend still offering breastmilk or formula to baby at least 30 minutes before offering solids. Remember that at first, the solids are just a tiny taste to get them used to a new sensory experience, so the milk is still their primary source of nutrition.
I would recommend starting with something bitter and less delicious, as these foods are not as well accepted as sweeter foods such as carrots, fruits and butternut, for example. Getting them used to more bitter vegetables is preferable, to ensure they are accepted better. Offer a tiny taste on their lips first and then allow them to suck the tip of the spoon to get their next mouthful – try not to spoon food directly into their mouth.
When baby is full they will close their mouth and turn their head away; this is their sign that they are done, and you need to stop feeding them. By overriding their sense of satiety (feeling of fullness) you will create unhealthy eating behaviours that will follow them into adulthood. Remember, solids are not their primary source of nutrition at this stage, so don’t worry if it they’ve only consumed a small amount.
Your attitude to mealtimes ensures success
Remember to keep mealtimes distraction-free and have a relaxed attitude to the introduction of foods. Keep mealtimes fun and interesting and, where possible, once baby is having more meals during the day, let them eat at the same time as the family. Role modelling is so important for your baby to learn about family culture, mealtimes and also how to use cutlery.
Don’t introduce new foods when you are feeling stressed, as you may affect baby’s acceptance, but remember it can take anywhere from 10-15 times for baby to accept a new taste. If they don’t like the new food the first time, keep persisting and offering it to them again.
Also remember that we can offer foods made in a variety of ways – not just steamed. Try roasting, baking or sautéeing to offer different textures and flavour profiles.
Foods not suitable for baby are cow’s milk and anything with a choking hazard like popcorn and nuts, as well as honey, sugar and raw or undercooked eggs and unpasteurised cheese.
Salt is a mineral that babies cannot tolerate well due to their immature kidneys, so foods with added salt, as well as gravies and stock powders, salted biscuits, cured meats, bacon, chips, ready meals and takeaways are not advisable.
As far as allergies, go there is new research to indicate introducing allergens earlier, however if you have a strong family history of allergies it is recommended that you speak to your doctor or dietician first.
All babies develop at different rates, so you might find your baby is ready for solids sooner than others, but you do need to introduce by six months. Each solids journey is an individual journey and if you choose to use purées or try baby-led weaning, or a combination of both, all are perfectly fine for baby.
Just keep a relaxed approach to introducing food and don’t stress about nutrition before nine months. Before that it’s about sensory interaction and tastes.
Breastmilk or formula are still baby’s number one source of nutrition. After 12 months your aim is for baby to be eating the family’s diet, so work on exposure to as many foods as possible before then.