When to introduce food
Research indicates that the optimal age to begin exploring solid foods is 6 months. From 6 months, most babies are able to sit, are capable of feeding themselves, and are capable of actually digesting solid food.
At 6 months of age a child’s iron requirements begin to increase, so this is when most children actually do require nutrition that is only available through solid food. Up until this point, their most valuable source of nutrition is milk feeding – breastmilk or formula.
Signs that your baby is ready
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organisation have all agreed that waiting until your baby is around 6 months of age, and is showing signs of readiness, is the best foundation for long-term gut health.
Starting solid food is SUCH an exciting time, but it’s essential to make sure your baby has reached these critical developmental milestones first;
- Sitting independently
- Independent head control – able to hold their head upright and steady
- Reaching for food, and able to bring food or other objects to their mouth
- Showing interest in other people eating
- Chewing motion with mouth
Wait, do they need some extra tummy support first?
Parents often say that “it all got worse around the time we introduced solids”. We want to set tummies up for a lifetime of healthy digestion and nutrient absorption. The first step is to support the gut, and not rush it.
Red flags look out for
- Sleep disturbances
- Waking during sleep stages, rather than just between sleep cycles (i.e waking every 30mins)
- Mucus in stools
- Persistent eczema that’s resistant to treatment
How do you start?
If your baby is showing the above signs of readiness;
- Give their regular breastmilk or formula feed before feeding with solid foods. Remember that their milk feeds are still their primary source of nutrition until they’re around 12 months old.
- Begin by introducing one food at a time, and one new food every 3 days.
- Go slow! A 1/2tsp taste is sufficient for their first meal.
- Gradually increase the amount of solid food by ½-1tsp each day. By 10 months, expect to be feeding them ½ cup of food per meal.
- The most important thing to remember, is to let them tell you when they’re full. Let their appetite be your guide.
Signs that bub is full include turning their head away, refusing to open their mouth, leaning back in their highchair, and playing with the spoon/food rather than eating. Resist the urge to try and convince them to have 1 last bite. This is how we risk turning meal times into a power struggle. Lots of factors can influence your baby’s appetite – activity level, growth spurts, illness can all create changes to their nutritional requirements.
4- 6 months
- 1-2tsp of single-ingredients.
- Soup consistency.
- Gradually increase to 1-2 tablespoons of food once per day.
- Follow your baby’s fullness cues.
- Expect to transition from 2-3tbs at 6 months, to ¼ – ½ cup of mashed/minced food daily by 8 months.
- By 7 months, add a second food to each meal.
- Aim for 1-2tbs of protein per day at 7 months, and 2-4tbs by 8 months.
- Transition from one to two meals per day, typically by 8 months.
- Gradually add more texture – less water and less blending.
- Expect breastmilk or formula intake to decrease around 8 months. Most babies will start to drink less milk at each milk feed and focus more on their solids intake.
The early days of eating are all about supporting the gut, and developing a positive relationship with food and eating.
Serving single foods separately is how we learn that different foods have different flavors and textures. It can be tempting to serve a mixed veggie mash each day, but then we miss an opportunity to teach babies how carrots taste, how fish tastes, and how different foods feel like in the mouth. Early exposure to variety is the key to lifelong healthy eating habits.
Starting solids can feel overwhelming and complicated. I strongly believe that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach when introducing food. If you have questions or concerns, reach out. There are many different ways to do the right thing, the trick is figuring out what’s going to work best for your child and your family.
– Ash Yates, Children’s Health Naturopath.