Last week, we looked at all the great benefits of making your own baby food from cost savings to reducing baby’s exposure to unnecessary additives and sugar. Now, you may be wondering when your baby will be ready to start solids. To learn the signs of readiness, where and how to start, and which foods to steer clear of, continue reading below.
When to Start:
While readiness will vary from one baby to the next, most babies are developmentally ready to begin solids sometime between 4 and 6 months of age. Gone are the days when pediatricians would recommend putting rice cereal in a young infant’s bottle to help them sleep better. We now know that their digestive systems are not mature enough to handle the complexities of different foods until they are a bit older. Also, by 6 months of age baby’s natural supply of iron has started to diminish and may not be met with breastmilk or formula alone. Here are some signs to watch for that may indicate your tot is ready to expand his palate.
- Baby has lost the extrusion reflex which is helpful for nursing but causes him to push food out of his mouth instinctively with his tongue.
- Baby can sit up with support and holds up his head and neck with ease.
- Baby’s birth weight has doubled.
- Baby shows interest in what you eat and may grab for it.
- Baby displays signs of still being hungry after nursing or finishing his bottle.
What to Serve:
Once you’ve determined your baby is ready to give solids a try, you have several options of where to begin. Many parents choose to start with a single-grain, iron-fortified rice or oatmeal cereal made with breastmilk or formula. While this option isn’t terribly nutritive, it is easy to digest and a good introductory food for baby to experience the basics of eating from a spoon. You can also choose to begin with pureed fruits or vegetables. Some of the best produce options for first foods include:
- Sweet potatoes
As your baby gets a bit older, you can move from purees to simply mashing food to allow exposure to different textures. And once your baby starts to develop his pincer grip around 9-11 months, you can begin to introduce small pieces of finger foods such as cheese, bananas, puffs, pasta, eggs, spinach, poultry, meat and beans. It’s best to wait until baby has a few teeth before introducing finger foods although some soft foods like bananas and avocados can be easily mashed with baby’s gums.
Keep in mind with any new food introduction that it can take up to 12 times of being exposed to the food before baby will decide he likes it. So don’t be discouraged if your baby rejects his first solids meal, just wait a few days and try again. It’s also wise to only introduce one new food at a time in case an allergic reaction should develop and you need to identify the culprit. Waiting 3 days after introducing a new food should be an adequate amount of time to determine if your child has an allergy. For more information on food allergies, check out - Decoding Baby Poop: Everything You Need to Know
What You Will Need:
In addition to whatever food you have decided to serve baby, you will need to have a highchair or other upright and secure seat in which to feed him. You will also need soft-tipped spoons, unbreakable or plastic dishware and a bib to catch the mess that will likely fall. Introduce baby to his first meal when he is in a happy mood and isn’t overtired or starving for milk or formula. Allowing him to nurse briefly before or have a little bottle of formula is a good idea so he will be satiated but not overly full. It’s also best to try a new food in the morning or during the day in case an allergic reaction should occur.
When you first begin solids, you may only serve baby a meal one time per day or even once every few days. At this point, it is really just for baby to begin learning about food and exploring different textures and tastes. Once your little one reaches 8 or 9 months of age, you should be feeding 2-3 meals per day in addition to their regular nursing or bottle schedule. Always let your child determine how much they want to eat and when they are full. They are still receiving a large percentage of their nutrients from nursing or formula and the food they are eating is in addition to that.
In addition to always ensuring baby is supervised and in an upright position when eating, never feed a baby food that may present a choking hazard such as whole grapes, popcorn or hotdogs. Foods that could potentially cause choking should be cut into small pieces until the age of four and popcorn is not recommended until preschool age due to the risk of it getting caught in the windpipe.
Also, never allow a baby under 1 year of age to have honey or cow’s milk. Honey contains spores of bacteria that may cause botulism which can be deadly to infants.
A Special Note about Breastfeeding:
Although the digestive system may be developed enough for baby to begin solids at 4 months, it should be noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization and many other notable authorities on pediatric health recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed until they are 6 months of age. In addition to the multitude of health and emotional benefits breastfeeding offers to babies, extending exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months is associated with greater protection from illness, lower risk for obesity and a digestive system that is more developmentally ready for food. Solids during the first year should always be an accompaniment to your already established nursing relationship, not a replacement.
Starting solids can be an exciting time for both parents and baby as you enter a new stage of development and baby begins to explore the wonderful world of food. Use this special time to allow baby to experiment with different tastes, textures and simple pleasures like holding the spoon as he learns what he likes and does not like. For questions about infant care or any and all pregnancy and natural birth related topics, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our birth center. We are here to support you during all the stages of motherhood.