Introducing Solids to a Baby: A Guide for Parents
Just after you feel you may have a routine with milk feeds with your little one, another big feeding milestone approaches quickly! The next step: Starting solid foods. It’s a journey filled with excitement and anticipation, as well as a touch of uncertainty for parents. As you embark on this adventure, we’re here to guide you through each step, addressing your concerns and celebrating the significance of this transition.
Introducing solids marks a pivotal phase in your baby’s nutrition and growth. While breast milk or formula provides vital nutrients up until 12 months, solid foods offer a broader spectrum of flavors and textures to support the development of essential oral and digestive muscles needed for learning how to eat. You may have heard the phrase “food before one is just for fun.” While this phrase does have some truth to it, we want to emphasize that it is not JUST for fun, it is also to help meet nutrient needs such as iron, zinc, choline, fat, carbs and more! A more accurate phrase may be “food before one is for fun, exploration, and growth.” Prioritize offering a variety of foods and understand that it’s a process that takes time!
It’s completely normal for parents to have mixed emotions during this transition. You might feel excited to witness your baby’s reactions to new foods, but also concerned about their safety and nutritional value. Remember, you’re not alone in this; many parents share similar experiences.
Breast milk or formula should be a baby’s main source of nutrition for the first 6 months of life. Babies who start solids too early may show signs of digestive discomfort, however, there’s more research needed on gut development. Most pediatric feeding organizations such as WHO, AAP, Canadian Pediatric Society along with the latest feeding research conclude that many babies show signs of readiness for solids around the age of 6 months.
These signs can include:
A common misconception is that babies need teeth to start solids. Baby teeth come in at a variety of times and if we waited for each little one to get teeth, some wouldn’t start solids until they are closer to 10 months, which would have them missing out on getting some vital nutrients from food like iron. Baby teeth are under their gums and provide enough rigidity for them to be able to safely mash and eat soft foods.
It’s important to recognize that each baby follows their own timeline for solids readiness and some factors may vary when you start solids if your child was premature or has any other medical conditions. Always reach out to your provider for more individualized support.
There’s a lot of hype around what your baby’s very first food may be, and it can seem like a hard choice. Keep in mind, in the beginning, they likely won’t eat much and will do a lot of exploring instead. So, start with simple purees and singular foods in the beginning, as they are just learning.
With time you want to prioritize building their plates and meals to include:
Choose an approach that works for your baby and your family. Did you know that you don’t necessarily have to start with only pureed foods? Babies all over the world have been fed a variety of ways safely for centuries and there’s a rise in offering safe finger foods like Little Bellies TASTY TEXTURES puffs to help babies learn to eat a variety of foods the family eats. It’s important to note that if you opt for a finger food approach, you should consider choking hazards.
We recommend you follow a responsive feeding guide where you read your child’s cues and honor their hunger or fullness at meals and don’t force them to finish specific amounts. Current research supports many benefits of allowing babies to learn to “self-feed.” You’ll see this term often called “baby-led weaning.” This approach was coined by Gill Rapley and encourages your baby to explore different textures and flavors through self-feeding, promoting independence and fine motor skill development.1-8
The journey of introducing solids is unique for every child. Some may take to new foods quickly, while others may need more time to adjust. A week-by-week or month-by-month plan can offer guidance but remember that your baby sets the pace.
Portion sizes and feeding frequency vary from baby to baby. Since we do not want to force them to finish a specific amount (as this can cause negative food and eating associations), start with 1-2 tablespoons of each food and offer more if they finish. Allow your baby’s hunger and fullness cues to guide you in determining how much to offer.
How many meals should you start with? In the beginning, when they are around 6 months there will be a lot of exploring; your baby may spit out some of the food, squish it and only lick or taste it. This is how they learn to eat! It’s a process that takes time. We recommend you start with one meal in the first month of starting solids and slowly add in more meals at times that work with your schedule. By around 9 months ideally, your baby will be eating 3 times a day as you do. At 12 months they may have 3 meals and 1-3 snacks.
If you start solids by offering finger foods, please review the common choking hazards from the CDC website11. In general, foods should be able to be mashed easily, and if your baby is around 6-8 months of age, in stick shapes or large enough for the food to be grabbed with their palmar grasp.
Small round hard foods such as grapes and cherry tomatoes should be quartered.
We recommend waiting until after 1-2 years to introduce things like sausages, if possible, if you do offer them, they also need to be quartered. Harder round foods like carrots need to be cooked until soft and cut as well. If your baby is expressing their pincer grasp around the 8-10 month mark you can start to offer soft foods in smaller bite-sized pieces around the size of a chickpea or small dice.
The latest LEAP/EAT studies recommend to introduce the allergens early and often when you first start solids. When it comes to the top 9 allergenic foods, current research recommends spacing them out. Introduce one at a time and not with another new allergen. This approach makes it easier to identify any potential allergies or sensitivities.9,10
Familiarize yourself with common signs of food allergies and sensitivities, such as rashes, hives, vomiting, or diarrhea. It’s essential to be vigilant but also to remember that not every reaction is an allergy.
For example: Day 1 broccoli, Day 2 broccoli + egg, Day 3 egg + avocado. If you suspect an allergic reaction, do not offer that food again, and consult your pediatrician. They can guide you on appropriate steps and treatments.
Distinguishing between normal digestive adjustments and potential food intolerances requires observation. If you notice persistent symptoms, consult your healthcare provider. You do not need to worry as much about foods that are not considered part of the top 9 allergens: Peanut, Egg, Wheat, Tree Nuts, Shellfish, Finned Fish, Dairy, Soy, and Sesame.
If you started with purees or mashed foods around the 8–9-month mark, as your baby grows, progress from purees to mashed and soft textured foods. Make the foods lumpier or less “mashed.” You can also offer long stick-shaped finger foods like Little Bellies pick-me sticks for 7+ months and softcorn for 10+ months to help them learn to take smaller bites and navigate what is in their mouth. This transition helps them develop the chewing skills necessary for more complex foods.
Parents play a crucial role in shaping their child’s attitude toward food. Maintain a positive environment during mealtimes, offering encouragement and patience.
Diversify your baby’s diet with a range of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. This variety introduces them to different flavors and nutrients.
Engaging in family meals allows your baby to witness healthy eating habits in action. You become a role model for their future eating behaviors. Your baby learns to eat by watching you! If you find your baby is not as interested in food, ask yourself: Are you eating the same foods WITH them?
As your little one is learning to eat, remember that this journey is both rewarding and a learning experience. Embrace the excitement (and mess), acknowledge your concerns, and trust in your instincts as a parent. By fostering a positive relationship with food and creating a nurturing mealtime atmosphere, you set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating habits and joyful family meals. Cheers to this new chapter in your baby’s growth!
Author: Leah Hackney, RD, LD, CSP @kids.nutritionist
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10.Smith, H. A., Becker, G. E., & Smith, H. A. B. G. (2013). Early exposure to dietary allergens and the development of allergic diseases in children. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 56(5), 487-489.
11.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, February 25). Choking hazards. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/foods-and-drinks/choking-hazards.html
Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with a healthcare provider before making any decisions regarding your baby’s diet or nutrition.