Infant Feeding Series: Starting Solids

After the first several months of life, your baby is approaching that age when either of one of two scenarios occurs:

1. Baby is practically grabbing the spoon out of your hand when you’re eating and seems so eager to eat some of that!

2. Friends, family members, and even the pediatrician keep asking when you plan to start solids.

What is the right age, what is the right first food, and how exactly do you go from there? This blog covers a plan that is based on research, professional, and personal experience. The important thing is to follow your baby’s lead. It is up to your baby to learn to eat at his or her own pace, not up to you to make them eat.

What is the right age to start solids?

According to the current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the age to consider starting solids is 6 months old. This is later than previous recommendations and probably later than our parents started feeding us foods. There are several reasons why this age is recommended, which include developmental milestones and readiness, digestive system maturity, and long-term studies looking at outcomes of risk for developing issues like food allergies, digestive disorders, obesity, diabetes, etc. In addition to watching the calendar for that 6-month birthday, watch your baby closely for signs of readiness as well.

Here are some things to watch for to make sure your baby is ready to transition to solids (and is more likely to be successful doing so):

  • Baby can sit with minimal support, and has very stable head control.
  • Baby opens up for a bite when you bring the spoon of food to his or her mouth.
  • Baby does not push the food out immediately with his or her tongue (called extrusion reflex).
  • Baby seems interested and eager to eat food.

What is the right first food for baby?

  • There are many foods fed around the world as “first foods.”  In this country, it is commonly recommended to start iron-fortified baby cereal made from rice or oats. The reason is because around 6 months, iron stores supplied in utero begin to decrease in relation to baby’s ever-expanding blood supply. Also, rice and oats are typically not allergenic. However, it is not always necessary to give your baby iron-fortified cereal as a first food, especially if you are able to provide a variety of iron food sources to baby as he or she grows up. Some other ideas for first foods:
  • Buy some fruits and vegetables at the farmers market or grocery store that are in season. Steam or bake if needed to soften them, then puree using a food processor or manual food mill. Examples include green beans, peas, butternut squash, bananas, apples, carrots, pears, etc.
  • Make homemade rice cereal, quinoa, or oatmeal by first grinding the grains in a coffee grinder until they are almost a powder. Then, cook with 1.5 X extra liquid than the usual ratio to make the consistency thinner.
  • Whichever food you choose, mix the food with a little breastmilk or formula (whichever your baby typically consumes). This helps baby feel something familiar while trying something very different from what they have been accustomed to for many months.

What is the best way to feed baby?

  • Pick a time of day when your baby is happy and calm. Make sure baby is not too hungry but also not totally full from a recent bottle or nursing session.
  • Start with a tiny amount on a baby spoon, like ¼ of the spoon with food on it.
  • Bring the spoon to baby’s mouth and say soft, encouraging words like “Let’s try eating ___. This is yummy food.”
  • Wait for baby to open his or her mouth before putting the food in it. Make sure baby knows what is coming. Do not surprise them by popping the spoon in their mouth. Feeding experiences need to feel safe and positive to be successful.
  • If baby is not interested, does not seem to like the food, or does not seem to know what to do with the food in his or her mouth, DON’T WORRY. Simply offer a sip of water from a sippy cup or spoon. Then try gently again with another bite of food. If it is still not working, then stop the feeding and try again the next day.
  • It is ok (and actually encouraged) at this stage for baby to explore the food and the utensils in their own way. Let them hold the spoon, chew on it, touch the food, etc.
  • Initially, your baby only needs about a teaspoon to a tablespoon of food PER DAY. Remember, it is not about quantity in the beginning. It is about learning.

Transitioning to solids is a learning experience, just like any skill your child acquires throughout life. It takes time, trial, and error before mastering something new.  For more guidance on starting solids or troubleshooting infant feeding, make an appointment with one of our registered dietitians. 877-486-4140.

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