Starting your baby with solid foods is an exciting time!
But we have a lot of parents ask questions like:
- When is the right time?
- How do I know what foods to feed my baby?
- How do I know how much food my baby needs?
- How often do I feed them?
- Should I try feeding my baby by baby-led weaning?
- How do I introduce allergenic foods?
While this is an exciting time for you and your baby, it can also be a bit overwhelming! This is completely understandable. We are here to help you navigate through the information and bring more clarity to starting solid foods.
Between 4-6 months of age, your baby will start to show signs of readiness to let you know they are ready to start solid foods. We explain solid foods as complimentary foods because they are only going to be providing a small part of your baby’s nutrition to start, as the majority of their nutrition will still be coming from breastmilk/formula. Let’s dive into the how, what, when, and all things starting solids with your baby!
How do you know if your baby is ready to start solid foods?
Around 4-6 months your baby will start to show you and tell you that they are ready to start solid foods.
Signs of readiness include:
- Sitting up with minimal support
- Having good head control
- Having the ability to move their head from side to side
- Their tongue thrust reflex is diminished – ie. the reflex that prevents babies from choking or aspirating on anything other than a nipple (breast or bottle)
- Baby is interested in food, reaching for it, and watching you eat
While your baby could be ready to start solids any time between 4-6 months, it is important to make sure your baby is showing all these signs of readiness. It is also important to remember that all babies are different, your baby might be ready sooner or later than other babies.
Solid Foods = Complimentary Foods
While yes, your baby will start eating solid foods… since that is what they are eventually going to eat for the rest of their life… that is actually not the only reason it is important to start your baby on solid foods. When your baby is born, they have built up stores of iron in the womb to last them up to 6 months, at which time these stores will begin to deplete. So, while yes, it is great, fun, and important to try a variety of foods with your baby, the main focus should be on iron foods.
The importance of iron
Iron is an essential mineral needed for normal brain development, transport of oxygen throughout the body to organs and muscles and is used to make red blood cells. It is very important that your baby gets enough iron from the diet in order to prevent iron deficiency that could cause symptoms like decreased appetite, frequent illness, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, light headedness, shortness of breath and other symptoms.
There are two types of iron in food, heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal products like meat, poultry, and fish. Non-heme iron is found in some animal products and many plant-based foods like beans, tofu, nuts, iron-fortified baby cereal, and many more. Heme iron is well absorbed by the body, but non-heme iron is harder to absorb. Therefore, it is important to have sources of both of these types of iron in your baby’s diet.
There are some tips and tricks to increasing absorption of non-heme iron in the body like consuming non-heme iron foods with heme iron foods, or pairing non-heme iron foods with vitamin C foods, as vitamin C helps with absorption of non-heme iron. At 7-12 months of age, your baby will need more iron than the rest of their childhood, until they become an adolescent, so it is very important to ensure they are getting adequate iron from the solid foods you are offering.
Another important reason to start solid foods is to introduce allergen foods sooner. It was previously believed that it was best to introduce allergens to children later in life, but more recent research shows the sooner the better for most babies. Sooner exposure to allergens can help reduce the risk of your baby developing allergies. It is important to introduce these foods sooner and introduce them one at a time so you can identify if your baby is having any kind of allergic reaction to the food. Once you have introduced the food for a couple of days and there is no reaction, it is also important to keep this food in your baby’s diet as often as possible to ensure that they have exposure to the allergen to prevent development of an allergy.
If babies develop allergies, 90% of those allergies will be from the top priority allergens. In Canada, these include:
- Cow’s Milk
- Tree Nuts
It is important to work with your pediatrician and/or dietitian to ensure you have a good plan for introducing allergens, especially if your baby is at higher risk of developing an allergy, for example if allergies run in the family.
To baby-led wean or not to baby-led wean? How to feed your baby
A common question we get asked is which feeding method is best to follow when you are starting solids with your baby. There is currently a lot of hype around baby-led weaning and many parents feel pressured that this is the preferred or “better” way to feed baby. However, there are many types of feeding methods for starting solids and there is no right or wrong way, instead what is best for your baby and your family.
Many of us were fed by traditional feeding practices and we all turned out just fine!
There are pros and cons to traditional feeding, which means starting from pureed texture and advancing texture one step at a time. There are also pros and cons to baby-led weaning, where baby self feeds. At Ignite, we are big fans of a more hybrid approach and are happy to support you in whatever way you feel most comfortable feeding your baby.
What foods to avoid to prevent choking
- Small, hard, round foods that can block your baby’s airway
- Sticky and smooth foods that can be hard to swallow
Some foods that fall into these categories include whole nuts and seeds, thickly spread nut butters, grapes, cherry tomatoes, leafy greens, popcorn, marshmallows, hot dogs, sausages, dried fruit, candies, and fish with bones. Ideally, these foods should be avoided until your baby is 4 years of age unless they are modified. Cutting grapes or cherry tomatoes or serving nut butters very thinly spread are ways to offer these nutritious foods without risking your baby experiencing a choking episode. Hard, raw vegetables and fruit should also be steamed or modified to a texture your baby can tolerate.
How much and when to feed your baby
Many parents also wonder how much their baby is supposed to be eating and spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not they have enough breast milk supply, are feeding enough solid foods, or are feeding their baby often enough. When baby starts solid foods, their primary source of nutrition will still be breast milk/ formula. Interestingly, babies’ bodies do an excellent job of regulating themselves. They are more than capable of determining when they are hungry and when they are full. The key is that as a parent you are a responsive feeder and listen to your baby’s hunger and fullness cues rather than getting too caught up in the amounts they are eating. That’s right! We are saying no to – “just one more bite” and letting your baby tell you when they are hungry and full.
Feed your baby solids when they are hungry. Signs of hunger include baby being excited to be in their highchair, leaning or reaching towards food, or opening their mouth for food. Signs of fullness include turning away from food, closing their mouth at the sight of food, and covering their mouth to food – when baby is showing these signs it means they are done eating and we should not try to force them to eat any more. When introducing new foods, offer these to your baby when they are happy and hungry to increase acceptance with new foods. Ideally, feed your baby when you or other family members are eating to display positive role modelling with food.
When your baby first starts eating solid foods you can start by feeding them once per day and increase offering foods twice per day when baby is 7 months old.
If you are unsure where to start, are looking for some guidance, or are unsure of the next steps for starting solids with your baby, get help from a dietitian. Our pediatric dietitian is here to help you make an individualized plan for your baby and family.