Introducing solids to a baby is a fun step in providing your baby his nutritional needs. However, breastmilk or formula is all that’s needed for about the first 4-6 months of life. If solids (rice cereal, baby foods) are introduced too early, it can lead to food allergies, obesity, digestive problems, and a decrease in breastmilk supply. If you are breastfeeding your infant, she will be nursing about 4-6 times a day. A formula fed infant will be taking about 32 oz of formula per day before considering when to start solids for baby.
When to Start Solids for Baby –Some ways to know your infant is ready to introduce solid foods:
It’s important to follow your infant’s developmental clues for readiness for solids. Your baby should be sitting well with no to little support at the hips. He should have steady, strong neck and upper body control. When his upper body is strong, then the muscles for chewing and swallowing thicker foods are ready too. He should be looking at you when you are eating — showing some interest in your food, maybe even grabbing your fork when you’re eating. If formula feeding, typically an infant taking 32-36 oz per day consistently may be ready for solids. Another indicator is when your 6 month old infant is now acting hungry more frequently, waking up sooner from naps acting hungry, or wanting to drink more when his bottle is done or staying at mom’s breast a little longer. Many times an infant will start waking up in the night again wanting to eat. This can also be a sign to start solids. Every infant is different. There really is no right or wrong answer — just watch for your infant to give you some clues for readiness.
When to Start Solids for Baby –Around 4-6 months of age:
Typically an iron-fortified cereal is introduced as the first food although many cultures introduce iron rich meats or healthy fish first. It really doesn’t matter. The only things you don’t want to give an infant under 12 months of age is honey and cow’s milk to drink.
Consider starting with a scoop of avocado mixed to a soupy consistency. Mix one tablespoon of the food with breast milk or formula and spoon feel this to your infant starting once per day. Gradually go to offering the food two times per day. Once your little one’s intestines are moving regularly (soft, easy bowel movements) with twice per day feedings, you can start adding another food once a day.
Offer the same new food about 3 days in a row and watch for signs of food allergy. Mild allergy symptoms include vomiting, rash, constipation or diarrhea, fussiness after eating, and gassiness. For severe reactions (facial swelling, lip swelling, trouble breathing or swallowing) seek medical help immediately. Be sure to get advice from your infant’s healthcare provider before reintroducing any food causing the above reaction.
There’s no exact science behind the proper order to introduce solids into you baby’s diet. The most important thing to consider is the consistency of the food to prevent choking. Begin with watery consistency first, then progress to thicker consistency, and then baby food with small, soft “chunks” as your infant gets teeth (around 9 months old).
Your infant will start by eating a food 1-2 times per day (1-2TBSP), then you’ll add another serving (about 2-3 TBSP). Gradually as the volume of solid foods increases, your infant’s intake of breast milk or formula will decrease until around 12 months of age your baby is breastfeeding about 3-4 times per day or your infant is taking about 18-20 oz of formula per day. Let the baby guide you. If he doesn’t want the food in his mouth, then just take a break for a few days and then retry. It’s a learning process and eating food should be enjoyable and a pleasant experience. Not something that is upsetting.
Consider some of these first foods
- mash a ripe avocado (contains healthy fats, some iron, is a good source of fiber, Vitamin K and folate)
- mash a ripe banana (is a good source of fiber, Vitamin B6, potassium and Vitamin C)
- bake an organic sweet potato and mash it to serve (good source of fiber, Vitamin A & C, potassium, and Vitamin B6)
- heat up some canned organic pumpkin, allow it to cool (good source of iron and fiber, Vitamin B6, Vitamins A & C
Home Prepared First Foods
You do not have to purchase ready made baby foods, you can prepare food at home. For instance, if you are having peas for dinner, steam your infant’s portion a little longer and puree the peas for your infant. Or, use a recipe book specifically for making baby food. Two really helpful products for making your own baby food at home are the Magic Baby Bullet and storage trays called OXO Tot Freezer Storage Containers.
Around 9 months of age:
At this age, many infants have mastered thicker pureed foods, have a tooth or two, and have a pincer grasp (able to pick up small objects with their thumb and pointer finger). Foods with some “chunkiness” are fine – string or shredded whole fat cheese, scrambled eggs, finger foods like cheerios, whole grain crackers and breads are fine. You can take some of your baked chicken or turkey and shred the meat for your little one. Be sure your infant is always sitting still, preferrably at the table or in a high chair, and always supervised while eating.
This is when infants start to learn the social aspect of eating — sitting at the table, enjoying each other’s company, etc. This is also when you start role-modeling table manners and healthy, balanced nutrition. Remember children mimic what we parents demonstrate. You don’t have to be perfect (no parent is!). But you always want to do your best and role model behaviors your want your child to mimic.
Foods to avoid
At first offer single foods, nothing combined. Once your infant is tolerating solids, having regular, soft bowel movements, no rashes, and enjoying spoon feedings, you can start combining some of the foods she’s already tolerated. Be sure to read labels, don’t offer your infant anything with added sugar, starchy fillers, or modified food starch. Organic foods are always best. If you can’t afford everything organic, then make sure you follow the Dirty Dozen list. This is a list updated yearly by the Environmental Working Group. Check it out here.
Choking is a big concern at this age. Do not offer popcorn, nuts, or hard foods until 2-3 years of age. Continue offering breast milk or formula until 12 months of age and hold off on introducing whole cow’s milk until after 12 months of age. You can, however, offer small amounts of whole fat cheese, whole fat yogurt, and whole fat cottage cheese under 12 months.
There are many things to consider such as developmental readiness, current feeding patterns, and what foods to introduce first. If you want more expert guidance and some help with meal plans for your infant, please sign up for our webinar on this topic.