Tomorrow I am speaking at a Parent Participation class about introducing solid foods to your baby. In preparation I collected the most common questions I am asked about this very fun stage in a baby’s development and I wanted to share them with you. Put down your spoon, grab your mop, and be prepared for the messy fun!
When is my baby ready for solid foods?
Can your baby hold his head up and sit properly in a high chair? Does your baby express interest in food? This typically happens between 4 and 6 months of age. Before this your child’s GI system is not ready to properly handle anything other than breastmilk (or formula) and he has not developed the motor skills to chew and swallow food properly. When you offer him food, if he turns his head away from you, chokes, or lets the food just dribble out of his mouth, then he is not ready. Try again in a few weeks.
Do I start with infant cereal?
Traditionally it was recommended that infant’s start with a single grain infant cereal. It is a nice option because you can mix a very small amount with breastmilk or formula when you are trying solids for the first time. Infant cereals are also fortified with iron and don’t have added sugar. Today we know that there really is not a bad first food to start with. You can choose a vegetable, fruit or even meat. The most important thing is that you are offering a single ingredient in a consistency that your baby can handle, without any added salt, sugar or chemicals. In fact there is some evidence that “baby led weaning” may be a preferable way for some families to introduce solid foods to their infants.
What is baby led weaning?
Baby led weaning is a fancy term for letting your baby feed himself, skipping the spoon feeding stage completely. This is a skill that is typically not found in infants until they are 6 or even 7 months of age, so it is best for parents who are not in a hurry to introduce solid foods. Initially your baby will get most of the food in his hair or on your floor, so it is also best for parents who are not mess-ophobic.
The goal with this method is to offer your child smushy versions of common foods that he can pick up himself (soft, steamed and peeled sweet potato wedges, steamed broccoli, scrambled eggs, etc). You want to avoid honey and anything that he could choke on. Some studies have shown that children introduced to solid foods this way may have lower rates of obesity and tend to be less picky eaters, although you may need to supplement with spoon feeding for a child who is underweight. The theory is that babies learn to pace themselves, chew their food, decide when they are done, and get a greater variety of food. How many times can you really serve your baby pureed peas anyway?
It is also nice to sit down at a table with your family and eat together, instead of spending the whole meal spoon feeding your infant. When my 4 year old looks at me at dinnertime some nights and says “feed me” I wish that we had skipped spoon feeding in her infant days! She does love being the baby some days, and I guess mommy secretly loves it too 🙂
What foods should we avoid?
There is increasing evidence that children introduced to a greater variety of foods before 11 months of age will have a lower risk of food allergy. This means that you should introduce eggs, seafood, meat, cheese, yogurt, wheat and nut products to your infant. You do NOT want to give your infant honey, milk, or choking hazards; no nut butters, grapes, hot dogs, large pieces of meat, hard pieces of fruits or vegetables, popcorn, candy, seeds or nuts. There is also no benefit to fruit juice unless your child’s physician has recommended it for constipation.
Exceptions: If you have severe food allergies in your family then you should not introduce any solid foods to your baby until you have discussed it with your child’s physician.
When do I start to decrease breastfeeding?
Your baby will let you know when she is getting enough solid food and will back off naturally on her frequency of breastfeeding. This shouldn’t happen before 6 months of age, and it will typically not occur until she is 10-12 months old.
My bottom line?
As long as you avoid choking hazards and honey there is no right or wrong way to feed your baby. Eat together as a family and enjoy each other instead of your smartphone. The most entertaining moments of your child’s life are often at the dinner table. Have fun!
Please comment below if you have any questions (or funny baby feeding photos and stories to share).
For more information:
- Rapley, G. 2006. Baby-led weaning, a developmental approach to the introduction of complementNwaru BI, Takkinen HM, Niemelä O, et al. Introduction of complementary foods in infancy and atopic sensitization at the age of 5 years: Timing and food diversity in a Finnish birth cohort. Allergy 2013;68(4):507-16.
- Hourihane JO, Aiken R, Briggs R, et al. The impact of government advice to pregnant mothers regarding peanut avoidance on the prevalence of peanut allergy in United Kingdom children at school entry. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2007;119(5):1197-202.
- Du Toit G, Katz Y, Sasieni P, et al. Early consumption of peanuts in infancy is associated with a low prevalence of peanut allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2008;122(5):984-91.
- Poole JA, Barriga K, Leung DY, et al. Timing of initial exposure to cereal grains and the risk of wheat allergy. Pediatrics 2006;117(6):2175-82.
- Brown A, Lee MD.Early influences on child satiety-responsiveness: the role of weaning style. Pediatric Obesity. Published online December 17 2013
- Rapley, G. 2006. Baby-led weaning, a developmental approach to the introduction of complementary foods. In Hall Moran, V and Dykes, F. eds. Maternal and Infant Nutrition and Nurture: Controversies and Challenges. Quay Books, London. pp 275-298.