You’ve just got the milk thing down, you might even have a feeding schedule (look at you!) and then it’s time to start thinking about giving your baby real food! Like many of the baby “firsts” it can feel a bit daunting — make headspace for allergies, choking, ruined carpets etc. — but introducing solids can be a really fun experience for you and your baby, and once their “established”, incredibly freeing for you as a food source mum. Here’s our fear-free, you-got-this intro to everything you need to know about starting solids.
To puree or not to puree
From four-months, your baby’s stomach is mature enough to handle food in a smooth, pureed form, spoon-fed to them by you. Traditionally this means the first thing on the menu is iron-fortified rice cereal. Then after a few days, you introduce fruits and vegetables, one type at a time, so that you can check for adverse reactions. After a month, you introduce meat. All pureed, all spoon-fed until they’re eight or nine months and start to need coarser foods. However the current guidelines from Raising Children say that there is no need to introduce one food type at a time, and rather that a wider range of options means a greater tasting experience and better nutrition. You can buy pureed food in jars, or the more popular pouches, in supermarkets or make your own.
WTF is baby-led weaning
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is an alternative to spoon-feeding purees, which has grown in popularity in recent years. This method means you skip the purees and wait until your baby is developed enough to hold food (around six months) and feed it to themselves. Literally letting the baby lead the weaning. In practice, this means sitting your baby in their high chair, preferably at mealtime with the rest of the family, and offering finger foods (like a finger-length of quartered cucumber, tomato or a cooked potato) which they can pick up and take to their mouth as they choose. Advocates for this method say it helps the child learn to regulate their own food intake, have a wider acceptance of different foods and develop fine motor skills better as they handle the food. There isn’t a large evidence base to support BLW over purees or vice-versa, but if you are a family that cooks regular dinners, it may be a lot easier to have your baby eat what and when everyone else eats rather than at a separate meal time when you have to do the feeding. The biggest fear around BLW is choking, particularly from grandparents. Of the data that is available, babies are no more likely to choke when feeding themselves than if they are spoon-fed. BLW advocates that the child is always sat up straight, in control of the food themselves and supervised, to minimise choking risk and, ofcourse, be smart about what you give them. No matter how you choose to feed them, a six-month-old should not be given small, hard pieces of fruit, nuts, whole grapes or other obvious choking hazards.
Reading the signs
The recommendation on when to start your baby on solids is “around six months but not before four months”, but it all depends on your baby. For solids, your baby needs to have good head and neck control and be able to sit up supported. Then, it’s about looking out for what pediatricians call “the signs”. These all revolve around your baby showing interest in food. Things like them watching you while you eat, reaching for food, bringing things to their mouth and the loss of their thrusting tongue reflex — you’ll know it when you see it.
Regardless of when you start introducing solids, milk (breast or formula) continues to be a baby’s main source of nutrition until they are 12 months. It is advised that you continue to breastfeed or give formula until at least this time and beyond. In the beginning, you’ll provide a milk feed before their solids meal, and then, at around nine months when babies have developed the necessary chewing and swallowing skills, they can start having milk feeds after solid meals. From six months you can also start offering your baby cool, boiled water, and after 12 months they can drink it straight from the tap.
“Food is fun until they’re one!”
Many parents find introducing solids a frustrating and worrying experience. Nothing like spending a bomb on all-organic ingredients to create a beautiful, nutritious baby food, only to have it refused and thrown to the floor by said baby. Parents worry that their kids aren’t eating enough, but the experts want you to relax. “Don’t sweat the small stuff - kids will have good days and bad in terms of eating,” says Paediatrician Dr Scott Dunlop of Sydney Paediatrics and Kids Consult. Instead of stressing about what they’re eating (or what they’re not), he advises focusing on making eating a positive experience. “The most important healthy eating habits are often behavioural in nature, therefore parents also need to model healthy habits. Feeding should be a positive event, not a chore or a battle. Becoming engaged in emotional battles over food will never lead to the establishment of a positive feeding experience.” Remember that your baby’s main source of nutrition is milk, and as long as they’re gaining weight and continuing to grow, a little food fussiness isn’t a problem. If they are nearly seven months, and still yet to start solids, it’s recommended you seek advice from your GP or child and family health nurse.
Child allergies have a much greater prevalence than generations before. There is evidence to suggest that the advice that was given to parents in previous years, which was to avoid allergenic foods, has attributed to the rise. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015 found that children who were exposed to peanuts as babies were far less likely to be allergic to them at the age of five, than those who were not. It is now advised that all babies, including those with a high allergy risk, try foods that cause allergies from around six months.
High allergenic foods have the green light, but there are some foods babies can’t have. Cow’s milk, honey, fruit juice and junk food (also not great for adults) are all banned. Junk food and fruit juice are on the no list because of the high sugar content, honey because of a possible disease-causing toxin it may contain, and milk because of allergen and nutrition reasons, but milk-based products and other dairy are OK.
Starting on solids means you need a few extra things to make life easy. Bibs, a high chair, plates and bowls, items to help you food prep and a few cook books are great things to add to your baby gift registry (even though it feels worlds away). You might want to stock up on some super-powered stain remover too - babies love blackberries but oh boy can they do some damage.
Need some inspiration on what to feed your baby? Read our blog post on baby food here.