Moving on from feeding baby breast milk or formula to feeding baby solid foods is a big step, and one that a new mother is often not sure about. “When is it time?” and “What should I feed my baby?” are questions often asked by mothers. One clue to this is if your baby starts to eye your food or opens its mouth when offered a spoon.
There are many signs as to when it is time to start making the transition and start introducing baby solid foods to your infant, and there are many types of solid foods that you can try. Transitioning to baby solid foods too early can lead to obesity and could make the baby choke, and transitioning too late can hold other problems such as choking or tummy troubles.
When Can Baby Eat Solids?
The only sustenance your baby needs in the first four to six months of its life is breast milk or formula. Thereafter, however, a baby develops the coordination and ability to move solid food from the front of its mouth to the back, allowing it to swallow the food. This will occur at around the same time that baby’s head-control improves and they start to learn how to sit when supported, which is essential for them to be able to go onto baby food solids.
All babies differ somewhat, and some are ready for baby food solids at 4 months whilst others develop a bit slower and are only ready at 6 months, it is necessary to ask yourself the following questions to ensure that baby is ready before attempting to feed him or her solids:
1. Can my baby sit with support?
2. Has my baby’s birthrate doubled?
3. Can my baby steadily hold his/her head upright?
4. Does my baby show interest in what I am eating?
5. Does my baby show signs of still being hungry by wanting more food after his or her bottle?
6. Can my baby keep food in his or her mouth without it dribbling out?
Once you can answer yes to all of the above questions, you can begin to supplement your baby’s liquid diet with baby food solids, after consulting with your baby’s doctor.
It is important that you do not wait too long to start your infant on baby food solids, as this may encourage them to reject the texture when you do eventually start. Other reasons to start babies on baby food solids by 6 months is that at that stage their digestive system can handle solids, and by this stage their natural stores of iron become to become depleted and there may not be sufficient iron in their liquid diets to replace that which has been lost.
What Are The Best Baby Food Solids To Start With?
Whilst baby may be ready for solids and reach for your forkful of steak and chips, it will be a while yet before their digestive systems can handle that. The Most common form of first baby food solids is generally a single-grain, fortified cereal. There are several ways in which you can ensure that baby will be receptive to the solids:
- Ensure that you offer the first solids when baby is hungry, but not ravenous.
- Give your baby a little bit of liquid first to stave off some of the hunger, and so that they do not get testy because they cannot swallow enough right away, then offer the solids.
- Do not try to give baby solid foods for the first time when they are tired, sick, or cranky, as this will be stressful for both you and baby.
- Offer first-time baby food solids either in the morning or in the afternoon so that you can monitor baby for any allergic reactions.
- Once baby is used to solids you can offer solids or liquids first, depending on what you feel works best for baby.
- Don’t give up if your baby rejects solids at first, try again later or in a few days, until they get used to the texture of solids.
Feed your baby as per usual, and:
1. Start with baby cereal – Mix about 1 tablespoon of rice cereal or a single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal with 4 to 5 tablespoons of formula or breast milk and serve it with a small spoon once you have helped baby to sit upright. As baby gets used to swallowing the runny cereal, mix less liquid in. As baby gets more used to eating solids, vary his or her mealtimes with barley cereals or single-grain oatmeal. Some infants have no problems in switching over to baby food solids, whilst others take a little longer to accept them; just keep on trying.
2. Add pureed fruit, vegetables, and meat gradually to baby’s food once they start to master the cereals. It is best to offer single-ingredients first then add other foods every three to five days. This method will give baby chance to get used to each new taste and will enable you to easily name the culprit should baby have any allergic reactions such as vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash.
3. Finely chopped finger-foods such as cheese, soft fruits, ground meat, well-cooked pasta, and graham crackers can be slowly introduced to the diet once the baby reaches between 8 and 10 months of age. As the first birthday approaches, you can start feeding your infant chopped or mashed versions of whatever the rest of the family is eating, whilst continuing to feed with formula or milk between meals.
New mothers were once advised not to feed their infants fish, eggs and peanut butter in case of allergic reactions, but this theory has been debunked, as research states that there is no evidence that early-childhood avoidance of these foods can prevent food allergies. It is advised, however, that you feed these foods to baby at home for the first time, with an oral antihistamine nearby in case of an allergic reaction.
Juice is not as good for baby as the fruit itself, but you can introduce 100% pure, pasteurized fruit juice into your baby’s diet from about 6 months. Limit the intake to around ½ a cup per day, and serve the juice in a cup, not a bottle. Too much juice could lead to tooth decay, weight problems and a lack of appetite for more nutritious baby solid foods.
Infants should not be given corn syrup, citrus, honey or cow’s milk before the age of one year. Citrus can lead to diaper rash; cow’s milk does not meet the required nutritional needs, and can lead to iron deficiency anemia, whilst corn syrup or honey can cause illnesses such as infant botulism.
Be sure that any foods you offer baby do not hold choking hazards. These can include:
- Tough foods such as large pieces of meat or sticky foods such as peanut butter
- Dry, hard-to-chew foods such as nuts, popcorn and raw carrots
- Small, slippery food such as hard candy, hot-dogs, or whole grapes
Make Mealtimes Manageable
Introducing your little one to baby solid foods can be trying, so here are a few ways to ensure that you can manage mealtimes:
- Remain seated whilst feeding your little one, with them either in your lap or sitting in a baby seat. Make sure they are secure and propped upright and cannot fall; buckle them in if you can, so that you have both hands free for feeding and wiping.
- Introduce utensils to your baby; let them play with a spoon while you are feeding them so that they can get used to the feel of it. As they become more dexterous, you can encourage then to dip their own spoon into the food so that they can experience feeding themselves.
- Dish up individual servings instead of serving directly from the bottle for hygienic reasons. Your baby will most probably only eat a few spoonfuls when first introducing him to baby solid foods, and any bacteria on the spoon from saliva may spoil what is left in the jar, making it unusable later. Rather place 1 tablespoon of food in the dish at a time and feed the baby this with a teaspoon, adding as and if necessary from the bottle with a clean spoon.
- Encourage exploration – baby is most likely to play with the food between bites, and this is good for their development, if a tad messy, so ensure that you have a damp cloth nearby. This will also take the stress out of mealtimes and can be fun for both you and the baby.
- Use a cup to feed baby breast milk or formula at mealtimes so that they get used to it and weaned off the bottle. This will accelerate their ability to drink from a cup on their own, which they should be able to do by about 9 months.
- Know when enough is enough. When your baby is full, they may either lean back, refuse to open their mouth or turn away from the spoon. Do not force more food on baby if this happens; as long as their growth is on target all is well with them.
If you have any problems or any queries, consult your baby’s doctor and discuss things with him or her and ask for advice regarding your problems in introducing baby food solids to your little one.