the 5 most important things to know when introducing your baby to solids
Starting solids is an exciting milestone in your baby’s life, but it can also be confusing, especially when you’re overloaded with conflicting information on how and when to do it.
You might be wondering things like:
- Should I introduce iron-fortified rice cereal first, OR red meat like my friend did?
- Are purees best, or are should I do “baby-led feeding” (soft finger foods) instead?
- Should I start solids at four months, or six months?
- What about nuts and eggs? Don’t I have to wait a year to introduce those because they’re allergenic?
I get it – it’s confusing.
The Canadian infant feeding guidelines have been updated within the past few years, with recommendations that support the newest and best research that we have on infant feeding to date.
1) Timing is important:
It is recommended that real food be introduced around six months of age, as breastmilk (and/or formula) can provide 100% of baby’s nutrition up to that point. The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that solid foods provide about one fifth of a baby’s energy needs from six to eight months and just under half of baby’s energy needs from nine to 12 months. Breastmilk and/or formula will continue to provide the base of your baby’s nutritional needs until one year.
Timing is important. You don’t want to start too early or too late. There is a “sweet-spot” window of opportunity around six months that seems to be the best time to start solids. To know when exactly to start between these ages, it’s important to pay attention to your baby’s cues and introduce solids when they are ready:
- Baby can hold their head up on their own: Your baby should be able to sit in a high chair, feeding seat, or infant seat with good head control and be able to hold themselves up.
- Baby opens their mouth when food comes their way: Babies may be ready if they watch you eating, reach for your food, and seem eager to eat.
- Baby can maneuver food from a spoon to the back of their throat: If you offer a spoonful, and baby pushes it out of their mouth and it dribbles onto their chin (the tongue thrust reflex), they may not be ready yet. You could try diluting it the first few times, then gradually thicken the texture, or you may also want to wait a week or two and try again.
- Baby is big enough: If your baby has at least doubled their birth weight and weighs at least 13 pounds , they may be ready to start solids.
Why you shouldn’t start too early or too late:
A baby’s ability to manage and safely swallow solid foods is not developed before about six months (however, some babies are ready in their fourth and fifth month). This is partly due to the fact that their gag reflex hasn’t fully developed, putting them at an increased risk of choking. Their digestive tract also isn’t developed enough to able to digest the nutrients in real food either.
On the other hand, starting later than six months (unless advised by baby’s pediatrician) might make the transition to real food more challenging and create picky eating issues. It also puts a breastfed baby at risk for iron-deficiency anemia. Therefore, baby’s first solid foods should be iron-rich.
2) Purees and finger foods are both great options!
By six months, most babies are ready for a variety of food textures, ranging from thin purees to soft finger foods. It’s really up to the parent and their level of comfort. Some babies prefer purees at the start, while some prefer to dig into soft finger foods right at the get-go. With all three of my kids, I chose to do a combo of purees, lumpier textures and soft finger foods in the beginning.
Because older babies quickly develop up and down jaw movements enabling them to “munch” (even without teeth), it’s not necessary to start with thin purees first like previously thought. In fact, there may be many benefits to starting with lumpier pureed textures or even soft finger foods. This will encourage self-feeding (reaching out, grabbing and munching on food), which helps with oral motor development, and allows babies to be in full control of how much and at what pace they eat, which teaches them how to self-regulate their food intake.
At Baby Gourmet, we have a nice variety of options to suit all early palates (and parent comfort levels) like whole grain, organic iron-fortified infant cereals, organic fruit and veggie purees, protein-packed pureed meals, and nutritious finger food options too like our quinoa “Puffies” and our freeze-dried yogurt “Mushies”!
You can experiment with various textures (lumpy, and tender-cooked and finely minced, pureed, mashed or ground) to see what your baby prefers best and even feed her a variety of textures daily. By nine months, your baby should be eating a variety of foods and textures and ideally participating in family meals! Family foods may need to be modified in texture for your baby (they need to be soft enough) and free of added seasonings such as salt.
Between eight and 12 months of age, babies develop a lateral movements of the tongue, enabling them to eat foods that are more solid and need chewing.
Safe finger foods include: pieces of soft-cooked vegetables and fruits; soft, ripe fruit & veg such as banana, avocado, sweet potato; finely minced, ground or mashed cooked meat, deboned fish like salmon and poultry; grated cheese; and whole grain toast strips with a thin layer of butter or nut butter, Baby Gourmet “Puffies (puffed quinoa snack that’s fortified with probiotics), or Baby Gourmet “Mushies” (freeze-dried bites).
Hard, small, round foods, as well as smooth and sticky solid foods can block your baby’s airway. It’s recommended that foods such as hard candies, cough drops, gum, whole grapes, popcorn, marshmallows, nuts, fish with bones, hotdogs and sausages aren’t served to children under the age of four years. Make sure that hard vegetables such as carrots are grated or steamed, pits are removed from fruits, grapes are cut in half, nut butters are thinly spread, and stringy foods such as pineapple or celery are finely chopped.
3) Always let your baby lead:
Regardless of which texture you start with, it’s important to let your baby lead. This means, either allowing them to self-feed and eat how much they wants (without coaxing them to eat more or taking food away when they’re not done), or paying close attention to their cues while spoon-feeding. Your baby will let you know when they’re done eating by swatting at the spoon, turning her head away, zipping her lips tightly, spitting food out, throwing food, whining or crying. Don’t make them eat more than they wants. Babies and toddler will eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Honoring those instincts may help them avoid overeating now and down the road.
4) Iron-rich foods should be served every day, right from the start:
Iron-rich foods should be introduced right from the get-go, as your baby’s iron needs increase around this time. Babies between six and 12 months of age should be offered iron-rich foods at least twice a day. Soft and tender pieces of meat or finely minced, ground or mashed cooked meat, de-boned fish, poultry, well-cooked whole egg, beans, and lentils or iron-fortified infant cereals (look for whole grain versions) are great first foods.
You can also introduce vegetables and fruits, in no particular order, as well as whole grain foods, natural nut and seed butters and pasteurized dairy products (with the exception of fluid cow’s milk). Between nine and 12 months, it’s safe to introduce homogenized cow’s milk (but I recommend waiting until 12 months of age for this).
5) Introduce allergens early:
We now know that delaying the introduction of common allergens such as eggs, nut butters and fish, isn’t necessary and that it is safe to introduce them as early as six months, even for babies at a high risk of developing a food allergy. In fact, early exposure to common allergens may even prevent allergies from developing! If you’re very worried, or if your baby is at a very high risk of developing a food allergy, we recommend testing these out alongside your baby’s family doctor or pediatrician.
Try not to get discouraged if your baby doesn’t eat like a champ right at the beginning. Be patient and keep introducing foods in a non-pressured way–he will learn to eat well in his own time and at his own pace.