Introducing solids to your baby can be daunting and like everything else in parenting, there are lots of options, opinions, and questions . . . When do I start? Traditional purees or baby led weaning? What food do I start with? What foods can/can’t they have? And the list goes on and on. Here is a guide breaking it down so you can decide what’s best for you.
What are some signs my baby is ready for solids?
Most babies show signs of being ready for solid foods around 4-6 months old. Younger siblings tend to be ready sooner than first-born babies because eating is often modeled more for them, and families with older siblings tend to sit down to eat as a family more frequently. Regardless of whether this is a first or second (or third!) child, here are some signs that your baby is ready to start solid foods.
- 4-6 months old – talk to your doctor to help determine if your baby is ready
- Sits up with support (i.e. a bumbo, high chair, etc…)
- Good head control
- Grabs things and brings them to their mouth
- Obsessed with food (smacks mouth, mimics eating motions with their mouth, shows enthusiasm around food, watches others as they eat)
If my baby is showing signs of being ready, how do I know which food to start with?
Before you start, talk to your doctor. Let them know of any family history of allergies so they can guide you on how to safely navigate any potential allergies with your child. I also recommend taking an infant CPR and First Aid class, so that you are familiar with the infant Heimlich.
Once you have talked to your doctor and gotten the go-ahead, it’s time to decide on the what and how. Let’s start with some myth . . .
Myth #1: You have to start with infant cereal.
The recommendation used to be that you started infants with infant cereals, but you can start them with any food, except honey which can not be given until a baby is over 1 year old. Introduce foods one at a time and early in the day so you can observe your baby and watch for any reactions. Some doctors recommend waiting 3 days in between new foods, while others say it isn’t necessary. I suggest waiting 3 days in between each food because it makes it easy to identify which food is causing a problem if they have a reaction. Some great beginner foods are avocado, lentils, black beans, broccoli, banana, apple, and carrots.
Myth # 2: Don’t start with fruits because then your baby will only want sweet foods.
Babies already have a preference for sweet things because of breast milk and formula, so don’t be afraid of fruits. Offer them a large variety of foods and continue to offer them even if at first your baby doesn’t like them.
Myth # 3: Avoid common allergens until children are at least a year old.
This used to be the recommendation, however, it is now suggested to give them early and often to help decrease the chances of developing allergies. The eight major allergens are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybean. Talk to your doctor about what they suggest, what signs to watch out for, and what to do if your child does have a reaction, especially if you have a family history of allergies.
Myth # 4: Foods need to be bland and prepared without spices.
This is not the case at all. It is recommended that you avoid adding too much salt or anything extremely spicy, but adding seasonings and spices to your baby’s food is encouraged. Exposing them to a variety of flavors as infants helps them become adventurous well-rounded eaters as kids and adults.
How do I introduce the first food?
The 3 most common ways of introducing solids are traditional puree feeding, baby led weaning and a combination of the two.
Traditional puree feeding tends to be considered a more parent-led approach. Parents start off feeding their baby with a spoon, often holding the bowl/food in their hands and offering spoonfuls to the baby. As their baby gets older they start to learn how to feed themselves using their hands and utensils. Eventually, as the baby gets older and more experienced there is a slow transition to foods cut up into bite-sized pieces, referred to as finger foods.
Initially, foods are steamed and then blended to the desired thickness and consistency, starting with thin and smooth and progressing to thicker and chunkier as the baby gets older and more experienced. At first, purees consist of only one food item, such as broccoli. Then as the baby is introduced to more foods, purees may consist of combinations of more than one food, such as broccoli and potatoes. There are recipes for all kinds of meals that can be made and then pureed. Full meals, including spices, can be turned into purees. The baby’s food is often different from what the family is eating, due to the amount of time and preparation it takes to make the purees or because they are premade containers. Families can choose to make their own purees, often making large batches and freezing them (I recommend portioning them out into an ice tray), or buying premade ones.
Baby led weaning
Baby led weaning is as the name implies: is a baby-led approach to progressing to solid foods. The baby feeds themselves finger foods and pre-loaded spoons of puree, which ensures that the baby is leading the process and deciding what and how much to eat. Rather than preparing or buying separate purees, whatever meal the family is eating, the baby is given a deconstructed, age-appropriate version of it. What this means is, the food, is cut into the shape and length of about an adult index finger or a wedge. The food is steamed, roasted, or prepared in a way that it can easily be squished between two fingers, but is firm enough for the baby to hold. Food is then put in front of the baby and they are responsible for getting it into their mouth.
For things such as yogurt, hummus, etc., the parent preloads a spoon for the baby and leaves it in the bowl or on the tray in front of them and the baby is responsible for picking it up and putting it in their mouth. As the baby gets older, they learn to load the utensils themselves and the food is given to them in bite-sized pieces. By allowing the baby to feed themselves, they are allowed to listen to their body and eat intuitively, stopping when they are no longer hungry. Baby-led weaning often requires parents to be comfortable with allowing their babies to take large bites and trust in the body’s ability to protect the baby’s airway. Some parents may not be comfortable with giving their baby a chicken drumstick to chew on or allowing them to take bites of a banana wedge and the fear of their baby choking can be a deterrent.
Depending on the foods and the comfort level of the parents some may decide to do a combination of the two methods, offering pureed versions of certain foods and age-appropriate finger food versions of others. They may decide to puree foods and preload spoons for their baby in the beginning and then start to offer the age-appropriate finger foods as they progress and get more comfortable. It is possible to feed your baby traditional purees and still allow them to be intuitive eaters. Babies will let you know when they are not hungry, it is the parent’s responsibility to listen. Combining the two methods and listening to their baby’s full and hunger cues allows their baby to explore a variety of tastes and textures while allowing parents the opportunity to ease into offering them age-appropriate finger foods.
How do I know if my baby ate enough food?
Whether you chose to start with traditional purees, baby led weaning, or a combination of the two, the goal in the first year should be to expose them to as much variety as possible. Let them explore and make it a fun experience. Feeding babies solids in the first year is not about meeting their nutritional needs, at this point they are still getting all their nutrition from breast milk or formula. As they get closer to 12 months there will be a slow transition in which the amount of breast milk or formula they drink decreases and the amount of food they eat increases.
Start by offering solids once a day. A good rule of thumb is once a day in the first month of solids, twice a day in the second month, and three times a day in the third month. The first year is all about exposing them to different flavors, textures, and temperatures. We want it to be fun, rather than stressful. Babies learn and explore their environment through the five senses, so let them get messy. Regardless of how you offer it to them, mealtime should be stress-free. Offer them all kinds of foods, if they devour everything great, if they take a few bites of some things and smash everything else great, if they don’t eat a single thing and it turns into one big sensory experience great! All of those options allow them to explore and learn and more importantly it was a fun positive experience.
We want to foster a positive relationship with food, so that later when they are no longer getting their nutrition from breast milk or formula, they are excited and adventurous eaters. Babies are intuitive eaters. If they aren’t hungry they will refuse to eat and at the same time if they are hungry they will not let themselves starve. Listen to their cues. Our job is to offer and expose them to a variety of foods. We decide what and when, their job is to decide if and how much they eat.
Randi Johnson has worked with children and families for over 20 years as a parent/child educator, a professional nanny, and a trained Advance Newborn Care Specialist. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Child Development with an emphasis in young children and families from San Francisco State University.
She founded Crib Notes Consulting to partner with families to provide customized strategies for navigating all the ages and stages, offering hands-on, personalized support tailored to the needs of each family, including phone consultations, hands-on in-person education, and support, as well as 24 hours on-call phone support. She believes every family, parent, and child is unique and what works for each of them is different. She works to inform parents, provide them with options, and help them choose and implement what works best for them.