Feeding your Baby Solids - the Basics
Babies are fully dependent on their mother’s breast milk or baby formula in the first months of their lives. But there comes a time when they’re ready to eat solid foods (or commonly called - solids), which will provide them with more necessary and complex nutrients that are to aid their further development and good health.
A lot of moms and dads that are new in the parenting business ask themselves the same question: when should I start feeding my baby solids? And this very important question, in fact, doesn’t have one straightforward answer because it all depends on your little one’s readiness to consume solid food. Let’s tackle this question a little bit more in the next section.
When Should you Start Feeding your Baby Solid Food?
The general claim is that you can start feeding your baby solids somewhere between 4 and 6 months of age, although a lot depends on the readiness of the baby itself, as we mentioned earlier. In fact, there’s a bit of an inconsistency in the AAP’s (American Academy of Pediatrics) sections on breastfeeding and nutrition when it comes to feeding your baby. In the breastfeeding section, the AAP recommends that babies should be fed exclusively through breastfeeding in the first 6 months of their lives. The section on nutrition and pediatrician guidelines, however, says that you can start feeding your little one solid food as early as 4 months of age, or between the first 4 and 6 months of the baby’s life.
This is why it’s always a good idea to listen to your baby first and foremost and be attentive to their nutritional needs. Some babies develop earlier than others and some need a little bit more time - but as long as they’re healthy and happy, every pace is a good one. You shouldn’t force your little one to start eating solid foods too early if they’re not ready for it. Infants still lack the physical skills which will allow them to swallow and consume solids safely. Their digestive system also isn’t quite ready to metabolize them up until they’re about 4 months old. In this time breastmilk is quite enough for proper baby nutrition and calorie sufficiency.
If you’re not certain whether your baby can still begin feeding on solid food, you can try and look for a couple of signs that may tell you more certainly:
- Your baby can sit upright and is able to hold their head up, in a steady position (have in mind that your baby should be able to sit upright in a highchair or infant feeding seat, so they can swallow the solids well);
- If they seem to have lost their tongue thrust reflex or extrusion reflex that automatically pushes food away from their mouth. The baby’s mouth and tongue develop along and in cooperation with the digestive system. So if they begin losing their extrusion reflex, it means they’ll finally be able to move food to the back of their mouth.
- They still seem to be hungry after feeding on breastmilk throughout the entire day (8-10 breastfeeding sessions, or somewhere around 32 ounces of baby formula);
- Your baby is curious about the food around them, and even about the food that you eat! They may even start reaching for your food or open their mouth once they’re offered a spoonful.
- If they have enough weight gain - around 13 pounds, which is around double his birth weight.
If you feel and see your baby is still not ready for feeding on solids - don’t rush it. It’ll come on its own eventually. In any event, most babies will be ready for it around 5 or 6 months of age. Remember though, it’s really not recommended to start before they’re 4 months old.
Solid Foods, Breastmilk and Baby Formula
The next thing you might ask yourself is when you should completely stop feeding your little one breastmilk and/or baby formula, after introducing them to solid food. Well, the answer is that they should stick around at least another couple of months, which means until your baby is about (or at least) one year old. Breastfeeding will keep providing them with the necessary nutritious elements, and it will also keep your baby comforted and feeling safe because they're used to the feel of a nipple and the taste of breastmilk and/or formula.
So, how it should all go about? Well, the first thing you should do in the morning is give your baby breastmilk or formula bottle feeding. This should continue before or after meals throughout the day, and also before bedtime. Of course, there isn’t a strict formula to follow, which means you’ll have to experiment a bit in the beginning and find out what works best for you and your little one. If, let's say, your baby is a big drinker, meaning they drink a whole bottle before their meal (if they’re given the chance!), then you should feed them first with food and then continue with the bottle. If she’s more of a moderate drinker, though, then you can try the opposite.
Up until they’re 7 to 10 months old, babies will still continue to consume the majority of the calories they need through the milk or formula. This means that the solid food meal times throughout the day, in the beginning, serve more as rituals where you get them used to the act of eating solids. Babies need a bit of time to get used to this - learning the taste, as well as the texture of the food they’re about to eat that will soon become the main source of nutrition.
Up until they’re 9 months old, you will need to feed them 20-28 ounces of baby formula a day or breastfeed them every 3-4 hours. From 9-12 months, you can begin feeding them 16-24 ounces of baby formula in a day or breastfeed every 4-5 hours.
The breakfast, lunch and dinner routines should start once your little one starts to gradually understand these concepts and starts to get excited or interested in them throughout the day. This will most likely occur around the time of 6-9 months of age. You should keep up with this routine even if they’re sometimes not hungry - getting them used to the idea of eating in scheduled time is what’s most important (of course, you shouldn’t stuff them if they’re really not hungry!).
So, this means that by the age of 1, they should have some kind of more or less stable eating schedule with solid food. Pediatricians recommend babies around this age to have three meals in the course of the day, with 2-3 snacks in between them. Liquids should be treated as complementary to a meal, and not a meal in itself (this goes for formula and breastmilk as well).
You can also check out this article
if you want to know a bit more in detail of the intricacies of breastfeeding and weaning. If you’re new to baby formula, then we highly recommend you check our guide
on the best baby formula products currently on the market.
Which Solid Foods you Need to Introduce First
Well, because households are so different throughout the world, which means feeding habits and tastes are different as well, and along with that, babies also, there’s not a one-food-fits-all types of baby solid food that you can give to them once you start with solids.
You don’t have to start only with infant cereal since there’s not really any medical evidence or research that shows the advantages or health benefits it offers to babies. Most babies will be able to start with pureed, single-ingredient food, without the addition of sugar or salt.
Consult with your doctor if you want to double-check when to give your little one solid food, as well as what kind.
AAP’s suggestion is that, if you’ve been breastfeeding your baby, meat should be one of their first foods. The reason for this is iron - iron present in turkey, chicken, and beef will help to replace the iron stores in the baby’s body, which start to diminish around the 6th month and reach their biggest low at around 9 months. You can also use single-grain cereals fortified with iron. At first you can try to combine one teaspoon of single-grain cereal with four or five teaspoons of breast milk or baby formula. Your baby should get used to swallowing the runny cereal in time, at which point you can start thickening it by using less water or breast milk and adding more cereal.
Other types of first foods recommended for the baby are: sweet and regular potatoes, bananas, applesauce, squash, pears, peaches, avocado - all of this pureed, of course!
Baby solid food is quite simple, actually - you basically can’t go wrong with pureed vegetables, fruits, and meat. And, that myth about causing your baby to develop that lifelong sweet tooth if you introduce them to fruits first instead of veggies, is just nonsense. You can start with whatever you want, it’s up to you whether you begin with bananas or carrots!
There are, however, certain types of solid foods you shouldn’t give to your baby, like the following ones:
- Honey - yes, this may seem odd, but honey can be quite dangerous for babies under 12 months old. If it’s introduced in their food too early, honey can cause botulism. Botulism in infants is caused by the spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which can be found in dirt and dust and can also contaminate honey. These bacteria don’t really affect older children and adults, because their bodies have developed mechanisms to fight it and safely move the spores through the body before causing any harm. Babies younger than 12 months don’t yet have mechanisms well-developed to fight it, which means you should wait at least a year to introduce your little one to the sweet taste of honey.
- Cow milk - here the rule of 12 months also applies. Babies aren’t able to digest cow milk as easily or as completely as they can breastmilk or formula, up until the age of 1. Cow milk has high concentrations of minerals and protein, which can be a bit too much on your little one’s kidneys, which are still immature for these kinds of food elements. Just stick to breastmilk or formula until your baby is above 12 months of age. In the meantime, cow milk isn’t a good replacement for iron, vitamin C and other nutrients that the baby needs. It may even cause iron deficiency in some babies, which can lead to anemia. The protein in cow milk can also cause irritation to the digestive system’s lining, thus leading to blood in the baby’s stool. And, finally, cow milk doesn’t fare well in infants also because it simply isn’t able to provide the healthiest types of fat the baby needs in those months for development. You can, however, use cow milk in stuff that you cook or bake and which the baby may consume.
- Choking hazards such as popcorn, nuts, whole grapes, as well as any type of nut butter, since oftentimes it has a sticky, oozy consistency which can be hard to swallow for the little one and it can also stick to their throats.
Solid foods that are usually first introduced to babies, such as pureed veggies, fruits, and meat, as well as iron-fortified cereal, aren’t the ones that typically cause allergic reactions. But, you should definitely see how your baby reacts to the first solid foods you give them, just to be on the safe side.
Once you do get on the safe side and you realize that your baby doesn’t have an issue with these foods, then you can start introducing them to foods that are more often known as allergens, such as eggs, soy, wheat, fish and peanut butter. In fact, according to the AAAAI (American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology), the introduction of allergenic foods to your little one, around the time from 4 to 6 months, can actually help them in the prevention of developing food allergies later in life.
Some babies, however, require more precautions than others. If you notice that your baby falls in any of the categories that follow, you should consult with your pediatrician or allergist in order to create a custom-made feeding plan for your baby, before actually starting to introduce them to solid food:
- Baby’s sibling has a peanut allergy;
- Baby has either moderate or severe bouts of eczema, even after going through a treatment plan prescribed by a doctor;
- Baby has been diagnosed with a food allergy or has had an immediate allergic reaction to a new food.
Signs of food allergy
If your little one is allergic to a new food they’ve been introduced to, you’ll be able to see the signs of the reaction in a couple of minutes, although sometimes it can also take even a couple of hours. Most of the babies that have food allergies exhibit mild reactions to them. Some of the stronger reactions include hives, diarrhea, vomiting. If you notice them, call your pediatrician and ask them for advice on what to do about them.
If you notice extreme reactions, such as wheezing, facial swelling (including tongue and lips), as well as difficulty breathing, then you should immediately call 911 or any kind of local emergency number, since they might be having an anaphylactic shock (or anaphylaxis), which is a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Feeding Tips on Solid Food
- Don’t worry about the order in which you’re going to introduce your baby’s food - fruits or veggies, sweet or unsweet, your baby will grow to like it anyhow!
- If or when you’re feeding them cereal, make sure you do it only with a spoon. Some people add cereal to their baby’s bottle, but this is a bad idea - it’s a potential choking hazard, and they might also end up with too much weight gain.
- Encourage a diversity of nutrition - even if there are some particular types of food that you yourself don’t have a preference for and don’t tend to eat often (or ever), don’t leave them off your child’s menu.
- Give your baby time to get used to the variety of new foods being introduced to them. Do it slowly and patiently, but don’t force them. If your baby is turned away by a particular type of food, come back to it in a week or two. Maybe they’ll never grow to like it, but chances are they’ll end up loving it!
- Be mindful of potential choking hazard foods, like the ones we mentioned above.
- Watch for stool changes. Babies’ stools change, sometimes more significantly, sometimes less, with the change of diet. This means that after the introduction of solid food, your baby may experience constipation. If you notice this - it will manifest as your baby having fewer bowel movements during the day, or his stool being hard and dry, and also difficult to pass - talk with your pediatrician. Doctors sometimes recommend feeding them with fruits high in fiber, such as prunes, peaches, and pears, until their bowel movements get back to normal.
- Babies’ stool can change in other ways too when you add solids to their diet, and it’s nothing to worry about. This includes changes in odor (it becomes stronger), as well as in color of the stool. This can happen even with a tiny amount of solid food and it’s perfectly normal.
How Many Times a Day Should the Baby Eat Solid Food?
In the beginning, babies will eat solids only once a day. When they get to about 6-7 months old, they start to eat two solid meals a day. Then, around 8 or 9 months, they’re able to eat solids three times a day. At this time their typical diet will consist of breast milk or baby formula, iron-fortified cereal, fruit, vegetables, and tiny amounts of protein contained in cheese, eggs, lentils, tofu, poultry and other types of meat.
You’ll know when your baby’s full quite easily: they will start to turn away from the food offered and they will refuse to eat it or open their mouth; they’ll also lean back to the chair they’re placed in, or start playing with the feeding spoon.
Some Final Notes on Babies and Solids
There is no one right way of introducing your baby to solid food. Parents know their children best, know their habits and the points where they easily get fussy and know when and how not to push their buttons further. In the beginning, it’s always good to start with smaller chunks of food and see how your little one reacts to them.
Babies are flexible and adaptable beings and will get used to the new food regime in no time - it just takes a little bit of patience from both sides. What is important is to introduce your little one to a varied diet which will provide them with all the nutrients they need for healthy growth. This will also, in turn, help them develop lifelong healthy eating habits which are harder and harder to keep up nowadays. So, patience and determination, in the beginning, will surely pay off in the long run, and your baby, now grown into a happy and healthy adult, will surely thank you for it!