How to Introduce Solid Foods to a Baby

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The first time you give your baby solid foods is a big moment. You are introducing new tastes, textures, and experiences to their little world! This blog post will help answer all the questions parents have about introducing solids to their babies. 

We'll cover how much food they need at each age, how often they should eat, what type of food you can start with, how to make sure they are getting enough breastmilk or formula when starting solids and more!

Why Babies Need Solid Foods

Growing babies require solid food for adequate iron and other vital nutrients to help them develop and mature properly.

Babies get iron from their bodies, which has been stored there since they were in the womb. They also obtain some iron through breast milk or infant formula. However, as babies grow older, their iron reserves decrease. They can no longer get sufficient iron from breast milk or baby formula by around six months of age.

Mum Feeding Baby in High Chair

Introducing solid foods is also essential for teaching infants how to eat and providing them with the opportunity to sample a variety of tastes and textures from different foods. It also improves their teeth and jaws while developing other abilities that they'll need later for language development.

What Age Should You Start Feeding Solids?

The current American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stance is that solid foods should be introduced between 4 and 6 months. 

Most parents start introducing solids around the 6-month mark. However, every baby is different, so it is essential to look for the signs that your baby is ready to start with solids. 

However, all babies benefit from having solid foods by seven months of age. You should not feed your baby solids before 4 months of age. If you are unsure, it is always best to check with your pediatrician first.

Signs Your Baby is Ready for Solids

How do you know when your child is ready? 

Some signs that may indicate readiness include:

  1. Can control their neck and head.
  2. Can sit upright alone or when supported.
  3. They start to look at the food on your plate and show a general interest in food.
  4. They open their mouth when food is offered to them.
  5. If given a spoon of rice, cereal can take the food from the spoon and move it to the back of their mouth. If your little one pushes the food out onto their chin, they may not be ready for solids. 
  6. Has doubled their birth weight and weighs approximately 5.8kgs (13 lbs)
  7. They still appear hungry even after having a full day's portion of milk

How to Start Introducing Solids

Initially, your baby will not know what to do. They may be unsure, scrunch their nose or keep the food in their mouth and then spit it out. Your baby may even reject the food entirely – do not be concerned, as this is normal when you first start introducing solids. 

It's natural for most of the first few solid-food feedings to end up on your baby's face, hands, and bib. 

If your baby cries or turns away when you feed them, do not force them to eat. Stop and try again later. Starting solids does require patience and is a gradual process. 

When starting solids, avoid any foods that cannot dissolve in their mouth, be mashed with their gums or easily sucked into their windpipe.

Below are some other tips for how to introduce solids:

Tip # 1 – Ensure the Right Timing

When you're initially starting solids, it's a good idea to offer them when both you and your baby are happy and calm.

Feeding your baby will initially be a very slow process, so it is best not to try and feed if you are in a hurry. 

Before offering your baby solids, feed them at least half of their breastmilk or formula. This way, your baby will not be too hungry but will still be hungry enough to try new foods. 

It is also best to introduce solids mid-morning or lunchtime instead of dinner time, so if they are unsettled after eating solids, it will not disturb their nighttime sleep. 

Tip # 2 – Start with One Food

Only introduce one food at a time initially. Introducing foods one at a time will let you see if your baby has any food allergies or problems digesting that particular food. Feed one type of food for 3 – 5 days before introducing a new food. 

Start with just one meal a day, then move up to 2 for around a month. Then you can move to 3 meals. Start with foods that are less likely to be rejected by your baby.

Tip #3 – Have the Right Equipment

Before you even start introducing solids, get your little one to practise sitting in their feeding or highchair. Make sure you adjust the height of the seat and tray table so that it is comfortable for both you and your baby. Remember always to ensure your baby is securely fastened in the chair.

Use a silicone or plastic spoon and soft bowls. Bowls with suction cups are great to prevent spills caused by little hands grabbing the bowl. Don’t forget the all-important bib (the silicone ones with a bit of a lip to catch falling food are great).

Tip # 4 – Introduce Food Slowly

Before you even put some food onto a spoon, place a bit of food onto the tray. Let your little one examine it, squash it and even taste it. Once your little one has inspected some of the food, places a small quantity (just enough to cover the tip of the spoon) on the spoon and put it on the end of your baby's tongue. If they swallow this successfully next time, place the food slightly further back on their tongue. 

Ensure that the food is prepared correctly to avoid choking. Food should be mashed, pureed, or strained and very smooth in texture. 

Tip # 5 – Demonstrate

We all know babies learn by imitation. So, open your mouth wide, pretend to take some food off the spoon, and show that you enjoy it. Your little one will soon want to start imitating your behaviour. 

Tip # 6 – Know When They Have Had Enough

It is essential to look for signs that your baby has had enough. If they start turning away and clenching their mouth tightly shut, these are pretty sure signs that your little one is finished. 

Do not push them to eat more even if you think they have not had enough. Your little one can still fill up with milk in the early days, so do not worry that they are not eating enough. As they get used to the process, the new tastes etc., they will start to eat more and more at each meal. 

How Much Should You Feed Your Baby

It would be best if you started by feeding your little one only a teaspoon or two at each meal. 

Between the ages of 4 to 6 months, feed your baby two meals a day. Each meal should consist of 2 to 4 tablespoons of food.

Between the ages of 7 to 12 months, feed your baby three meals a day. Each meal should consist of food equal to the size of your baby's fist.

You can start to introduce finger foods around the 8-month mark.

When your baby turns one, they should be on three meals a day with two small snacks. 

Each baby is different so look out for your little one’s hungry and full signs.

Signs of Hunger:

  • Showing excitement when they see you preparing their food.
  • Leaning forward while they are in their highchair.
  • Opening their mouths as you approach with the spoon.

Signs your Baby is Full or No Longer Interested in Eating:

  • Turning their head away from you.
  • Getting distracted.
  • They push the spoon away when you try to put food in their mouth.
  • They are clamping their mouth tightly shut.

Importance of Breastmilk and Formula

For the first 9 to 12 months of life, milk continues to be an essential source of nutrients.

Reduce the amount of solid food you offer if your infant eats them so much that they're reducing their breast or bottle feeds. 

Introducing solids is more about getting them accustomed to chewing and swallowing food than it is about providing any significant nutritional advantage.

Give your baby half of their milk before feeding them their solid meal, then end the meal with the other half of the milk. If you find your little one is refusing the second half of the milk, try cutting back on the amount of solids. 

Does Your Baby Need Water?

Baby Drinking From Sippy Cup

Water is not required in healthy babies. Breast milk, formula, or a combination of the two gives all the hydration they need. It is acceptable to offer a little water when you begin feeding your child solids.

Use an open, sippy or straw cup and do not give more than 1 cup (8 ounces) of water per day. 

Should You Give Your Baby Juice?

Juice is not required for babies. Juice should not be given to infants under the age of one year old. Offer only 100% fruit juice and no more than 4 ounces per day after 12 months (up to three years old). Only offer juice in a cup, not a bottle. 

Never put your little one to bed with a bottle, as this can cause tooth decay. Juice also causes a decrease in the desire for other, more nutritious meals such as breast milk or formula. Too much juice can also induce diaper rash, upset tummies, and weight gain in infants.

What Changes to Expect After Your Baby Starts Solids 

Your baby's stools will become more solid and varied in colour as they become older. They'll have a much more pungent odour owing to the added sugars and fats. The stool may become green from peas or other green veggies; it can also turn red from beets. (Beets might also cause urine to acquire a crimson hue.)

If your baby's meals aren't strained, their stools might include undigested food components, such as pea or corn hulls and tomato skin. This is perfectly normal.

Your baby's digestive system is still under development, and until it matures, new foods will be hard for it to digest. If your infant's stools are watery or mucus-filled, however, this might indicate irritation in the digestive system. Reduce the number of solids offered and feed them more gradually. If the stools remain watery or mucus-filled, discuss this with your pediatrician.

Like many developmental milestones, your baby goes through, particularly in the 1st 12 months, mastering eating solid food does take time and patience. But with practice, your little one will soon get the hang of it and will start enjoying all the new food offered to them.

Babies are perfect examples of listening to their bodies' cues, eating when hungry and stopping when full

Jan Hempstead RN, BCC.

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