Starting solids is a major milestone of babyhood - one you look forward to… and one you may feel nervous about! With dozens of choices on the baby aisle, organic labels and GMO’s to juggle, and the well-meaning advice of family and friends, baby’s first bite can feel more like a mountain than a spoonful. I’ll cover some solid advice for starting solids in this article :)
When Should You Start Solids?
The short answer is to start your baby on solids when you feel comfortable with it. A lot of moms feel pressured to start really early - at 4-5 months old, or even sooner. That was the trend for decades, so many hear that advice from mothers or grandmothers.
Today we know that breastmilk provides an excellent source of nutrition for babies, and the first tastes of solid food are just that - a taste. It’s not necessary to push baby too fast. We also know that things commonly worried about in the past, such as low iron levels, can be avoided by evidence-based care during pregnancy and birth (delayed cord clamping means more iron reserves for baby, for instance). An excellent pregnancy diet and healthy foods while breastfeeding means you’ll make rich milk that meets baby’s nutritional needs.
A good time to start experimenting with solids is when your baby is sitting up and seems interested in foods. Babies are actually pretty curious about everything, and they love to put pretty much anything in their mouths - but if you offer baby a taste and s/he seems curious or eager for more, it’s probably a good time to start.
I’ve started solids for 7 babies at this point, and I have found that I really like starting at around 7 months, give or take a week or two. I watch my baby and his/her response :)
How Should You Start Solids?
There are two main methods for starting solids:
Starting with Purees - this is the traditional way we think of feeding solid foods to baby. You begin with strained or pureed foods and gradually move up in texture until baby is eating table foods with the rest of the family.
Starting Baby-Led Weaning - this method, taught by Gill Rapley, has become increasingly popular. It involves offering baby large chunks of food (generally baby-fist-sized) and letting baby self-select and self-feed.
You can also use a combination of the above methods. Which method is right for you really depends on your family and your baby. Jarred baby food or homemade baby foods are both an option with purees. Homemade food takes a little more effort, but can be done in batches that last quite awhile. With baby-led weaning you’ll probably prepare something right along with your meal (of course, you can also puree a little bit of your meal for baby, too). Baby-led gives your baby a chance to experiment and develop motor skills, but you can also give baby-sized chunks along with purees you’re feeding.
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here. I like giving purees so I can get nutrient-dense foods into my baby as s/he gets more and more interested in solids. I also like giving those fist-sized chunks for baby to grab, suck, chew, gnaw, and just generally experiment with. We do a mix :)
Sometimes parents do wonder about choking risks with baby-led weaning. It’s always good to be with your child as s/he starts to experiment with solids. Don’t give small pieces of
food - that’s why “fist-sized” is a good guideline. Babies have very strong gag reflex (which is triggered further forward in the mouth than an adult or older child). As your little one gets used to handling food in his/her mouth, you may see (and hear!) gagging. This is normal and part of the learning experience. Stay calm and watch your little one - give him or her the chance to work out how food and tongue work together while you stay close by to encourage.
What Foods Should You Start With?
Much like other choices with solids, what you start with is up to you, but a few guidelines are helpful:
Avoid the “white out” - Dr. Alan Greene points out that we tend to start our babies with bland, nutritionally-devoid white starches (think baby cereals). Our babies deserve better, more nutrient-dense foods! Babies also lack the enzymes to digest many starches (they develop around a year or so old). Start with nutrient-dense foods - better choices for starting foods are pureed meats (very nutrient dense), pureed veggies, and chunks of soft nutrient-rich foods. Some examples are:
- Sweet potatoes
You can serve these in fist-sized chunks, or mashed, or a combination of both! Make sure you also include healthy fats in your baby’s meals. A little drizzle of butter or coconut oil works well. Many vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning the body cannot absorb them without fat. Plus fats and cholesterol are vital to your baby’s brain development (even the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that 50% of baby’s and 1-year-old toddler calories should come from fat!).
As your little one gets used to first tastes of simple meats and pureed veggies, you can add in more variety. Stick to meats, veggies, and fruits, then bring in gentle grains like
rice and oatmeal.
After baby’s getting the hang of solids, you can feel free to season your baby’s food similar to how you season your food - baby has tasted all of those seasonings through your milk, and will grow up to enjoy that cuisine around your table!
How Do You Balance Solids and Breastfeeding?
Many moms wonder how breastmilk and solids fit together, and what meals look like on a day-to-day basis. It’s key to remember that, at first, your baby’s solids are an experiment… they’re something fun for you and your little one. Don’t push it. Just a taste here and a partial teaspoon there are good.It’s also good to note that it might take 7-10 or more tastes before your child accepts a new food. Just keep offering and stay positive. Take a break from a rejected food and try again in a few days or a couple of weeks. If you keep mealtimes relaxed and model enjoying good food, your baby will pick up on that!
As your little one gets used to solids, they’ll start to make up more and more of the diet. You’ll probably begin with just one meal, then move on to two and three solid meals as your little one nears a year. An afternoon snack also becomes part of many family’s routines, and some families have a morning snack too. I’ve never liked letting my children “graze,” but we do have regular mealtimes and an afternoon snack time to look forward to :)
Breastmilk can and should continue as long as you and baby want it to. It continues to provide incredible immune benefits and stays tailed for your baby’s specific nutritional needs for each age and stage s/he goes through. You can breastfeed on demand between meals - most children do just fine with nursing and solids!
Starting solids is an adventure for both you and your baby! Remember to focus on nutrient-dense foods, keep offering, and follow your little one’s lead - you will both enjoy the journey!
Get more information on starting solids in my video mini-course - click here for more information: http://www.naturalbirthandbabycare.com/cereal-saga/
Guest Blogger: Kristen Burgess
Kristen Burgess is the founder of NaturalBirthandBabyCare.com where she’s been writing about everything pregnancy, birth, and baby for the last decade. Kristen is a wife and mama to seven sweet kiddos and uses her spare time to write a http:///www.