Starting Solid Foods For Your Baby- What Every Parent Should Know?

For new parents, figuring out when your child is ready to start solid foods can often be a challenge. The process of taking babies that are entirely reliant on milk and introducing them to solid foods is known as weaning. The weaning method begins with the first mouthful of solid food and comes to an end with the last feeding of breast milk or formula milk.1

When and how parents introduce solid foods is essential in establishing healthy eating patterns and habits for life while also cutting down fussy eating habits. Here’s a complete guide for parents on how to start your child on solid foods.

When Do Babies Become Ready For Starting Solid Food?

Most medical experts agree that babies should start getting solid food between four to six months of age. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends the same period.2,3,4

Six months is typically the recommended time to start giving solid foods to your baby because, at this age, babies start needing extra nutrients that cannot be found in milk, such as zinc and iron.5,6 Even giving small amounts of solid foods will ensure that your baby is getting these nutrients.

Most health experts also recommend that you pay attention to certain signs that your baby is developmentally ready to have solid foods. These signs usually include:7,8

  • Has developed full head control
  • Is able to sit up properly
  • Is able to hold food in their mouth and is willing to chew the food
  • Is able to pick up certain foods and put them in their mouth
  • Is curious at mealtimes to see what you are eating and want to get involved.

It is usually rare for babies to become ready to have solid foods before they reach 4 to 6 months. However, if you think that your baby is already showing signs of being prepared to have solids, but they have not yet turned six months, it is best to speak to your pediatrician for advice on what to do.

What Should The First Tastes Be For Your Baby?

First tastes are the first step to developing good eating habits in your child and exposing your baby to a wider variety of flavors than just milk. When you begin introducing new foods, it is essential to remember that amount that they eat is not as important as the variety of foods you introduce them to. In the starting stages of weaning, your baby will still continue to get most of the nutrition it needs from breastmilk or formula milk.

It is important to make starting solid foods a positive experience for your baby. Encourage your child to play with, touch, and taste these new foods.

When should you ideally try giving your baby a new solid food? It is best to try introducing new foods around an hour after your baby has had a milk feed, and when the baby is not too tired. Mixing some foods with a little bit of breastmilk or formula milk can also help improve the chances of acceptance.

  • Many new parents are often confused about what the appropriate first foods should be. Here’s a helpful guide on what items to include in your baby’s first foods:
  • Soft fruits like mango, bananas, blueberries, raspberries, cooked pear or apple, avocado, plums, and peaches.9,10 You can give these foods after pureeing them, mashing them, or only serving them as finger foods.
  • Soft and cooked vegetables like carrots, broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, peas, and pumpkin.11 Again, you can give them in puree form, mashed, or only as finger foods.

Cereals: Rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and millet can be given as cooked, mashed, or pureed till you reach a suitable texture. You can mix them with a small amount of formula or breastmilk to make it more appealing to your baby.

It is best to start with a couple of spoonful or a couple of bites once a day for a week to understand whether your baby likes them and wants more of these foods, or if you should cut out some foods or reduce the amount of certain items.

There is no schedule to when you can introduce new foods. New foods can be introduced even every day, and you can also combine various foods. For example, you can try giving banana with avocado or try mixing infant rice cereal with pear or apple.

This is also an excellent time to start giving sips of water in a cup to your baby. It will help them get used to having water from a sipper or cup.

What To Introduce Next In Solid Foods For Your Baby?

Once your baby has reached six months and has been regularly eating solid foods, you can start offering a more comprehensive range of solids to slow build-up to giving three solid meals a day. It is essential to make sure that you provide different textures and never overfeed your baby. Keep an eye out for signs that your baby is full and does not want to eat anymore.

After these introductory foods, you can start including the following in your baby’s diet:

  • Eggs, but only after ensuring they are adequately cooked.12
  • Poultry, meat, and fish: Make sure to make them soft and easy to manage for your baby. Before giving them to your child, remove any bones.13
  • Pulses: Your baby may like eating lentils, peas, chickpeas, and butter beans. Chickpeas maybe a little on the heavier side for your baby’s stomach to digest, so go easy on the quantity of chickpeas you give to your child.14
  • Full-fat dairy products: Cheese and plain yogurts are great options to give to your baby.15
  • Gluten-containing grains and cereals: Some great choices include barley, pasta, and couscous.
  • Nuts and seeds: Before giving any kind of nuts and seeds to your child, make sure that they are finely ground, or you can give them as nut butter also. It is important to note that whole nuts should not be offered to children under the age of 5 years. Keep a close watch on your baby if there is a history of nut allergies in your family.16,17
  • Finger foods: You can try giving easy finger foods like rice cakes, cooked pasta, and breadsticks, along with soft fruits such as the ones mentioned above. Soft, cooked vegetables like sweet potato wedges, carrot sticks, and broccoli florets are also great ideas.18

Once your baby is between seven to nine months old, they should be able to manage to have three small meals daily. By now, you should aim to include a source of carbohydrate, protein, and fat in each meal.

Once your baby reaches 9 to 11 months, most of them are able to have family meals that are cut up into small bites. At this stage, you should also start offering them harder finger foods like zucchini, apple, carrot, raw pepper, crackers, and pita bread. By this age, most babies are able to have proper three meals every day and maybe also a dessert, such as a fruit or plain yogurt.

By the time your baby turns one year old, they can easily eat what the rest of the family is having and join the family meals. By this stage of development, most babies can have three small meals in a day along with two to three snacks as well during the day.

However, it is important to know that each baby develops at their own pace and your baby might be eating more or less depending on its individual needs and growth pattern.

Are There Any Foods You Should Avoid Giving To Your Baby?

While it is essential that you give a wide variety and texture of foods to your baby, there are certain foods that you should avoid giving to your baby.19,20 These include:

  • Undercooked eggs: It is never advisable to give undercooked eggs to your baby as these may contain bacteria like Salmonella. Salmonella can make your baby sick, and it may even lead to various complications. Salmonella infection in babies can cause gastroenteritis, and they may develop symptoms like abdominal cramps, tenderness, diarrhea, and fever.21
  • Honey: You should never give honey to children under the age of one year as there is a high risk of botulism, which is a severe form of food poisoning. The condition is known as infant botulism.22,23
  • Whole Nuts: As mentioned above, you should not give whole nuts to babies and children under the age of five as there is a risk of choking. Consult your pediatrician before you introduce any nut products to your children, especially if there is a history of nut allergies in your family, or if your child has any other food allergies.24
  • Unpasteurized dairy products: These can be harmful to your baby since the process of pasteurization kills any bacteria that may be present in dairy products. These bacteria may cause infection.
  • Salty, sugary, or highly processed foods or beverages: These items do not supply any nutrients, and sugar can be damaging to your babies’ teeth. Furthermore, a baby’s kidneys cannot cope with too much of salt, which is why it is recommended to avoid adding too much salt to your family meals also.
  • Cows’ Milk: While you can add small amounts of cows’ milk to some foods, it should never be given as a main drink or given to your baby in large amounts. This is because there is not enough iron or other nutrients in this type of milk for your baby.
  • Low-fat products: At this stage of development, your baby needs a proportional amount of fat in their diet as compared to adults. This is why you should be giving more of fatty foods to your baby.

Are There Any Dangers Of Starting Solid Foods For Your Baby?

While starting solid foods is a fun and engaging stage for both parents and the baby, there are some risks you should be aware of. These include:

  • Risk of Food Allergies: Providing a varied diet to your baby is essential, but there is always a chance that your baby could be allergic to some foods. The risk of this happening is even higher if there is a family history of food allergies or if your baby has eczema.25 However, in spite of popular belief, there is no evidence that shows that delaying the introduction of certain foods after six months of age can prevent food allergies.26 There is evidence to show, though, that introducing almost all foods to your baby four to six months of age can actually help reduce the risk of food allergies and even celiac disease.27,28 In fact, many studies have even indicated that introducing a maximum variety of foods before a child turns six months old may actually prevent food allergies, especially in children who are at a high risk of developing food allergies.29
  • Risk of Choking: Choking is a big concern when you are starting to give solid foods to your baby. However, every parent should know that gagging is a normal part of babies learning how to eat solids. It is a natural built-in safety reflex that prevents babies from actually choking.30 Symptoms of gagging includes opening the mouth and pushing the tongue forward, coughing, and/or spluttering. Your baby may also turn red in the face. It is important that you don’t panic or become anxious when your baby gags. However, choking should be treated as a serious condition. Choking happens when a food particle gets stuck and blocks the airways, making it difficult for your baby to breathe properly. Symptoms of choking include silence, turning blue, and an inability to make noise. Your baby may also start to cough, and in severe cases, may even lose consciousness. It is often recommended that new parents take a first aid course to be able to deal with such emergencies.

Conclusion

Weaning your baby from only having breastmilk or formula milk to having solid foods is a necessary process. You should ideally start giving your baby soft vegetables, fruits, and cereal by the time they turn four to six months old. After six months you can start introducing other foods as well. However, while introducing solid foods is a vital process for the development and growth of your baby, it is also important to keep in mind that you will need to avoid giving certain foods and also be watchful for allergies and choking.

References:

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  6. Mehta, K.C., Specker, B.L., Bartholmey, S., Giddens, J. and Ho, M.L., 1998. Trial on timing of introduction to solids and food type on infant growth. Pediatrics, 102(3), pp.569-573.
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  18. Grant, K.A., McLauchlin, J. and Amar, C., 2013. Infant botulism: advice on avoiding feeding honey to babies and other possible risk factors. Community Practitioner, 86(7), pp.44-47.
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