PLN Parenting 101: Introducing Solids—How & When to Start
The first solid foods
When starting solids, it’s natural to worry. What should I feed them? When and how much? Are they getting enough? Am I feeding them something I shouldn’t be? How do I know my baby is ready and won’t choke? It’s important to remember that this is gradual process. Formula or breastmilk will still be the main source of nutrition for some time. The goal is really to introduce the idea of mealtimes and the experience of new textures and flavours.
It’s an exploration, not an exact science.
Still, every parent wants to have a good foundation of knowledge to feel confident. So we’re here to point you in the right direction. Though, as with everything baby-related, there isn’t really a “right” way — there’s just the right way for you.
When does weaning begin?
The short answer to this is at six months. This is just a guideline, but one from the World Health Organization that is based on numerous international studies about how babies’ digestive systems and kidneys mature from birth and what they are ready to cope with developmentally. If you start earlier than six months, some studies suggest you may increase the risk of allergies and illness. New research is always emerging. But most experts agree that the chance of choking decreases if you wait until around the time your baby can sit independently. Waiting too long also has its hazards: your baby has a finite amount of iron stores from birth that carry them through to about six months. From this point on, they will begin to require more iron than formula or breastmilk can provide, as well as the other nutrients that foods bring.
However, if your child is showing signs of readiness earlier than six months (or conversely, if you feel that your child does not seem ready at all for foods at this age) it may be suitable to deviate from the guideline. If you’re unsure, watch your baby carefully. Can they sit up straight (alone or with support)? Can they hold their head up? Do they chew on their toys or hands? Do they show interest in what you’re eating? Have they stopped immediately sticking their tongue out if you put something like a spoon in their mouth? While it isn’t necessary for all these milestones to be achieved to start, it does give you a good idea of how ready your baby is.
You will sometimes hear other parents, family or friends suggest that if your child is suddenly waking up at in the night that this could mean they are ready for solids and are “hungry” for food. The best practices recommended by experts generally caution against starting solids for this reason. A four- or five-month-old may wake for many reasons; if it is truly because they are hungrier (perhaps due to a growth spurt), then at this young age, the best way to get them the nutrition they need is through breastmilk or formula. You will get much more in them at a time, and the breastmilk and formula will have many more calories and nutrients than, say, a bowl of applesauce or rice cereal.
How do I start?
Slowly. Small quantities and just one new item at a time to see if there are any adverse reactions. If your baby seems unhappy to start this new adventure, feel free to take a break from solids. Give it a few days and try again later.
It should be a fun enjoyable time for both of you (albeit a messy one)!
What is this Baby Led Weaning thing I keep hearing about?
Traditionally, parents have started babies on purees. This method tends to give parents control over how much baby eats, and allows baby to be exposed to lots of different tastes. Purees have been thought to reduce the chance of choking, since baby doesn’t need to chew. In recent years, however, Baby Led Weaning (BLW) has gained popularity as an alternative to pureeing (although many parents probably used this alternative for years without giving it a name). This school of thought suggests that babies should control what goes into their mouth and how much. Like breastfeeding on demand, Baby Led Weaning allows a child to determine when he or she is full. Introducing lots of different textures at an early age is thought to be good for baby’s development, as it allows them to learn how to pick up food, guide it to their mouth, and chew. Also, some babies just really don’t enjoy being spoon fed, so this is a great alternative. If you have decided to wean before six months, BLW may not be suitable, as small babies are generally only able to suck and have yet to develop the motor skills to chew or move food around with their tongues.
What about choking?
There isn’t a lot of research on which method reduces the chances of choking, though some argue that a baby’s strong gag reflex is a better mechanism against it than parental caution. Babies gag in order to prevent choking — it’s actually a good thing. But it’s important for parents to be able to discern gagging from choking. To reduce the chance of an actual blocked airway, never force feed, make sure they are sitting upright and never leave them alone to eat. It’s best that they eat sitting and not while moving nor when overly excited or upset. Initially, it may be a good idea to avoid foods that are most likely to cause choking – anything small, firm and round (peas, popcorn, raisins, whole grapes or blueberries, chickpeas, small cherry tomatoes). Sometimes raw apple and carrot can cause problems; try grating or cutting into thin sticks.
Do I have to choose one or the other?
You can do whatever you’re most comfortable with, and you can switch gears at any time.
If you decide to start with purees, just remember to try and introduce a variety of textures by 9-10 months. Many babies can get funny about new tastes and textures and may become fussy eaters later on. Whatever you choose, introducing solids should happen sitting down, and when they aren’t too tired or grouchy. Nobody likes to try new things when they’re tired and grouchy.
Any advice for first time parents on how to start solids? Anything you’re still wondering about as a first time parent? Please add them to the comments below.