Put down your spoon, grab your mop, and be prepared for the messy fun!
When is my baby ready for solid foods?
Can your baby hold his head up and sit properly in a high chair? Does your baby express interest in food? This typically happens between 4 and 6 months of age.
Before this, your child’s GI system is not ready to properly handle anything other than breastmilk (or formula), and he has not developed the motor skills to chew and swallow food properly. (1)
When you offer him food, if he turns his head away from you, chokes, or lets the food dribble out of his mouth, he is not ready.
Try again in a few weeks.
Do I start with infant cereal?
Traditionally it was recommended that infants start with single-grain infant cereal. It is an excellent option because you can mix a tiny amount with breastmilk or formula when trying solids for the first time. Infant cereals are also fortified with iron and don’t have added sugar.
Today we know that there is not a bad first food to start with. You can choose a vegetable, fruit or even meat. The most important thing is that you offer a single ingredient in a consistency that your baby can handle, without any added salt, sugar, or chemicals.
There is some evidence that “baby-led weaning” may be an excellent way for some families to introduce solid foods to their infants.
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a fancy term for letting your baby feed himself, skipping the spoon-feeding stage completely. This is a skill that is typically not found in infants until they are six or even seven months of age, so it is best for parents who are not in a hurry to introduce solid foods. Initially, your baby will get most of the food in his hair or on your floor, so it is also best for parents who are not mess-ophobic.
This method aims to offer your child smushy versions of common foods that he can pick up himself (soft, steamed, and peeled sweet potato wedges, steamed broccoli, scrambled eggs, etc.).
You want to avoid honey and anything that he could choke on. Some studies have shown that children introduced to solid foods this way may have lower rates of obesity and tend to be less picky eaters, although you may need to supplement with spoon-feeding for an underweight child.
The theory is that babies learn to pace themselves, chew their food, decide when they are done, and get a greater variety of food. How many times can you serve your baby pureed peas anyway?
It is also lovely to sit down at a table with your family and eat together, instead of spending the whole meal spoon-feeding your infant.
When my four-year-old looks at me at dinnertime some nights and says, “feed me,” I wish that we had skipped spoon-feeding in her infant days! She does love being the baby some days, and I guess mommy secretly loves it too.
What foods should we avoid?
There is increasing evidence that children introduced to a greater variety of foods before 11 months of age will have a lower risk of food allergy. You should add eggs, seafood, meat, cheese, yogurt, wheat, and nut products to your infant.
You do NOT want to give your infant honey, milk, or choking hazards; no-nut butter, grapes, hot dogs, large pieces of meat, hard pieces of fruits or vegetables, popcorn, candy, seeds, or nuts. There is also no benefit to fruit juice unless your child’s physician has recommended it for constipation.
Exceptions: If you have severe food allergies in your family, you should not introduce any solid foods to your baby until you discuss it with your child’s physician.
When do I start to decrease breastfeeding?
Your baby will let you know when she is getting enough solid food and will back off naturally on her breastfeeding frequency. This shouldn’t happen before six months of age, and it will typically not occur until she is 10-12 months old.
My bottom line
As long as you avoid choking hazards and honey, there is no right or wrong way to feed your baby. Eat together as a family, and enjoy each other instead of your smartphone. The most entertaining moments of your child’s life are often at the dinner table. Have fun!