Working Together: Breastfeeding and Solid Foods

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Food before one is just for fun!” …or is it?

You’ve likely heard this phrase used before (or you will soon enough!). The premise is that solid food introduction and intake is solely for fun because breast milk provides everything a baby needs. While this isn’t entirely untrue, it’s also not very accurate and is oversimplified. Let’s dive in.

Role of Complementary Foods

We know that breast milk is the primary nutrition before age one. However, the introduction of complementary foods is very important. From a nutrition standpoint, babies have increasing needs for calories, protein, fat, zinc, and iron after 6 months of age. Breastmilk supplies some of these nutrients in high amounts but is low in iron and has decreasing levels of zinc after about 6 months. The introduction of solids around 6 months of age helps to fill in these gaps. From a development perspective, babies are developing feeding-specific skills. Solid food introduction helps them to develop the skills of moving food around in the mouth, decreasing the gag reflex, chewing, bringing food to the mouth, and more. Six months of age is the prime time to begin offering these foods from a developmental standpoint. 

Early Stages

Getting started with solids while breastfeeding can feel tricky at times. In the early weeks of offering food, begin by breastfeeding as usual before offering a meal. Consider breastfeeding about 30 to 60 minutes before offering food. Breastfeeding before a meal may seem counterintuitive. This ensures the baby has a satisfied tummy before offering food and prevents a “hangry” meltdown at mealtime. If the baby is too hungry at mealtime, they can become frustrated as they are learning the new skill of eating solid foods and may not fill their tummies as quickly as they’d like.

With time and learning what works best for your baby, breastfeeding timing is flexible. Some families feel the above approach works well throughout offering solids. Other families may try offering half of a usual feeding (ex. one breast or cutting time in half) and then offer solids to increase solid food intake. They may end the feeding by offering a “top off” breastfeed. On the other hand, some families find their little one does best with eating solid food first and then breastfeeding after the meal. Know there is flexibility in how you plan breastfeeding vs solid foods – try out different approaches and see which works best for you. This may vary day by day, during growth spurts, and schedule – and that’s perfectly okay!

Should I schedule breastfeeding?

Nope! When it comes to breastfeeding, encourage feeding based on cues. Some days your baby will need to breastfeed more, and other days less. Solid food introduction shouldn’t change the response to their cues. What you can (and arguably – should) schedule is solid food meals. The introduction of meals is gradual and based on age. Suggested meals per age may look like:

  • 6-7 months: 1 meal per day
  • 8-9 months: 2 meals per day
  • 10-12 months: 3 meals per day

With the increase in meals, you may notice your baby signalling less often for breastfeeding and dropping a feed here or there. This is to be expected and is part of the gradual transition to toddlerhood.

Finding the Balance

It can feel like a balancing act at times when feeding your baby food while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding continues to provide important nutrients, immune boosters, comfort, and more during this period and onward. Adequate amounts of breastfeeding can help prevent constipation with the fluids provided. Some parents have found that increasing the number of meals too quickly (ex. 2-3 meals per day at 6-7 months old) can decrease the number of breastfeeds. This of course decreases overall fluid intake and may contribute to developing constipation. Another culprit in decreased breastfeeding frequency is the early introduction of snacks. Ideally avoiding snacks until closer to a year (9-12 months) is recommended. If you want to offer snacks, offer them along with a meal during the day. On the other hand, we also need to make sure the baby is on track with the number of meals for their age as too few meals can negatively impact growth and nutrition.

Navigating this new stage of solid foods can be intimidating but with some trial and error, you’ll find what works best for your little one. With breastfeeding and solid food introduction, you’ll find a new groove and routine that fits your lifestyle and is enjoyable. Keep in mind: “Food before one is important – and fun!”

For more insights about strategies and a process to introduce solids, read Nicole’s article with tips for parents interested in Baby Led Weaning.

Author: Nicole Lattanzio, RDN, CSP, IBCLC @infant.nutritionist
Owner, The Baby Dietitian PLLC