Embarking on the journey of how to introduce your baby to solid foods is not only a milestone but also an adventure filled with excitement and questions. You may find yourself pondering what is the right age to start solid foods, what foods to offer, how much solid food should a baby eat and how to ensure a safe and supportive feeding experience that promotes overall healthy development.
Timing plays a crucial role in this endeavour. As your baby grows into a thriving individual, her nutritional requirements evolve too. In fact, did you know that during the first two years of life, a staggering 75% of each meal contributes to the growth and development of your baby’s brain!
There is no doubt why mother’s milk stands as the epitome of safety and nourishment during the first six months of life, regardless of geographical location. It serves as a constant and reliable source of essential nutrition that is efficiently digested by your baby, ensuring the absorption of all vital nutrients and the production of ample energy.
Introducing solid foods or fluids other than breastmilk to your baby before the age of six months can significantly escalate the risk of various illnesses, such as diarrhoea. This, in turn, can lead to weight loss and weakness in your child, and in severe cases, even pose a life-threatening situation.
It is worth noting that both baby girls and boys require an equal amount of nutritious food to flourish into strong and intelligent individuals. Remarkably, a mother’s milk alone can fulfil the nutritional needs of both sons and daughters during the first six months of their lives.
Once your baby reaches the six-month mark, it becomes imperative to introduce solid foods, as their growing bodies demand more energy and nutrients that surpass what breastmilk can provide on its own. Begin this exciting phase by offering your little one two to three spoonfuls of soft food such as porridge, and well-mashed fruits or vegetables, twice a day.
Remember, the why and when to introduce solid foods to a baby is by understanding that solid foods is a necessary supplement to breastmilk and meet your baby’s ever-increasing needs are met. Therefore, it’s essential not to wait too long before incorporating solid foods into your baby’s diet. Delaying this process may hinder weight gain at a healthy rate and put your baby at risk of becoming undernourished and frail.
“The World Health Organization recommends that all babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their life, and from 6 months onwards, babies should start eating solid foods as well as being breastfed for up to 2 years or longer.” So embrace this journey with enthusiasm and confidence, knowing that each bite of nourishing food you introduce to your little one fosters their development, health, and future success.
Tips for introducing solid foods to baby
1. Begin introducing solid foods when your baby reaches 6 months of age.
2. Continue breastfeeding alongside solid foods for at least the first year.
3. Breast milk and formula should remain the primary source of nutrition for your baby until she reaches 12 months of age
4. Starting at around 6 months, offer a variety of complementary foods to support your child’s healthy eating habits. This includes vegetables and fruit, starchy foods, protein foods, and dairy products.
5. Initially, provide small portions of food and gradually increase the quantity. By 9-12 months, aim for three nutritious meals per day and offer healthy snacks as well.
6. Offer your baby a wide range of foods repeatedly to encourage acceptance and develop their taste preferences for a balanced diet.
7. Avoid adding sugar and salt to complementary foods, and steer clear of foods that already contain these ingredients.
8. If your baby consumes less than 500ml of infant formula daily, supplement their diet with vitamins A, C, and D.
9. To prevent choking hazards, always supervise your baby during meals and avoid offering small, rounded foods.
10. There are various approaches to introducing solid foods, such as transitioning from smooth purees and mashed foods to lumpier textures alongside soft finger foods. Alternatively, you may opt for baby-led weaning, where you provide finger foods and allow your baby to self-feed. You can also combine these methods to find what works best for your baby.
When is your baby ready for solid foods?
Recognizing the signs that your baby is ready to venture into the world of solid foods is an exciting milestone for both parents and infants. While most babies reach this stage around 6 months of age, it’s important to grasp that each child develops at their own pace. Some little ones may exhibit signs of readiness before others.
However, there are three key indicators that your baby is ready and primed for her first taste of solid foods, and these typically emerge simultaneously around the 6-month mark. Firstly, your baby will demonstrate the ability to sit upright independently and will be able to hold her head straight and steady showing her growing strength and stability. This sitting position is crucial as it allows your child to engage with food in a more controlled and safe way.
Secondly, you will notice your baby’s coordination skills improve as she begins to synchronize her eyes, hands, and mouth. This newfound dexterity enables your child to grasp and pick up food, paving the way for the thrilling experience of self-feeding. Witnessing your little one’s hand-eye-mouth coordination bloom is not only a testament to her development but also a source of joy and pride for you.
Finally, a crucial sign of readiness for solid foods is the ability to swallow rather than instinctively expel the food from her mouth. This signifies that your baby’s ingestion and digestive system has matured to the point where it can ingest, process and absorb solid food effectively. The transition from spitting out food to swallowing is a significant milestone, marking your baby’s readiness to explore a broader range of tastes and textures.
While it’s natural for parents to observe other changes in their baby’s behaviour, such as increased night waking, fist-chewing, or heightened appetite, these alone do not necessarily indicate readiness for solid foods.
It’s essential to focus on the core signs of being able to sit up independently, coordinated interaction with food, and successful swallowing to determine if your little one is truly prepared for this exciting culinary journey.
For parents who find their baby expressing hunger cues earlier than the typical 6-month mark, it is advisable to address this increased appetite through alternative means. Rather than rushing to introduce solid foods prematurely, consider breastfeeding more frequently or offering larger volumes of formula milk during bottle-feeding sessions. This approach ensures that your baby receives the vital nutrients she needs while allowing her more time to develop before embracing solid foods.
The vital signs indicating your baby’s readiness for solid foods revolve around her physical abilities and developmental milestones. Wait for these indicators to be displayed. By observing your child’s ability to sit up unsupported, coordinate her hands, eyes, and mouth, and successfully swallow food, you can confidently introduce another chapter to what she can eat.
How much solids is too much
Keep in mind the common problems when introducing solid foods. It is recommended to start with small amounts and gradually increase the quantity over time. By the time your baby reaches 9-12 months of age, she should be consuming three nutritious meals per day along with the option of having two healthy snacks if necessary.
In the beginning, you can offer a small portion of solid food once a day, while keeping in mind that the majority of your baby’s nutritional needs will still be met through breastmilk or formula. At this stage, babies do not require three full meals a day.
However, as your baby grows and develops, you can slowly increase the amount of solid food she consumes, gradually replacing some of her milk intake with solid foods. By the time your baby reaches 12 months of age, the goal is for her to have three well-balanced meals each day, in addition to potentially needing two healthy snacks.
It is important to understand that it is normal for babies to show variations in their interest and appetite for food from day to day. There may be days when your child will eat less than usual, and that is okay. It is advisable not to be overly concerned about the exact quantity she consume when starting the weaning process.
Breastmilk and formula should continue to be your baby’s primary source of hydration up to the age of 12 months. It is only after your baby’s 12th month, you can continue breastfeeding your baby if both you and your child desire to do so.
When to start offering pureed, lumpy finger foods?
When it comes to transitioning your baby from a diet of smooth purees to more solid foods, it’s important to consider their readiness and gradually introduce new textures. Starting with smooth purees and mashed foods is a good initial step. However, as your baby grows and develops her chewing skills, it will be beneficial to introduce lumpier foods to help her adapt to different textures.
Alongside purees and mashed foods, you can also incorporate soft finger foods into your baby’s diet from the beginning of complementary feeding. Finger foods should be sufficiently large so that when your baby grasps them, a portion of the food sticks out from her fist. This helps your child practice her fine motor skills while exploring self-feeding. Additionally, the finger foods you choose should be soft enough for your baby to chew easily. For example, well-cooked carrot sticks are a suitable option.
It is crucial to prioritize your baby’s safety and minimize the risk of choking. Avoid giving her small food pieces that could potentially cause an obstruction. Always supervise your baby closely while she is eating to ensure her safety.
As your baby continues to grow and develop, aim to introduce a wide variety of tastes and textures gradually. By offering different foods, you help expand her palate and encourage healthy eating habits.
By around 12 months of age, your baby should be consuming foods that align with the rest of the family’s diet. This allows your baby to sit at the dining table and enjoy family meals and promotes a well-rounded eating experience.
What to encourage and what to totally avoid
Iron-rich foods are crucial to include in your baby’s diet when introducing complementary feeding. Some excellent sources of iron include red meat (pork, beef, or lamb), pulses (beans and lentils), tofu, green leafy vegetables, and powdered nuts without added sugar and salt, avoid giving whole nuts.
It’s important to note that iron from non-meat sources is not as easily absorbed by a baby’s body. However, you can enhance iron absorption from these sources by including vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin C in your baby’s meals. This is particularly important for babies following a vegetarian diet.
When it comes to foods to avoid, it’s best to steer clear of adding sugar and salt to your baby’s complementary foods. Sugar can lead to tooth decay, so it’s important not to add sugar to your baby’s food or offer them sweetened treats like biscuits, cakes, or sugary drinks.
Salt intake should be limited for babies under 12 months, as their kidneys are not fully developed to handle large amounts of salt. Avoid adding salt to homemade baby foods, and be cautious of processed foods like crisps, bacon, gravy, and ready meals that may contain high levels of salt.
During the complementary feeding stage, it’s essential to avoid certain foods for your baby’s safety and well-being. Honey should not be given to babies under 12 months due to the risk of infant botulism.
Babies get infant botulism when the bacteria spores get into their intestines and make toxins. In some cases, the source of infant botulism could be honey, but usually, it is exposure to food contaminated with bacteria in the soil.
Shark, marlin, and swordfish should be avoided as they contain high levels of mercury, which can harm your baby’s developing nervous system. Raw shellfish poses a higher risk of food poisoning, so it’s best not to offer it to your baby.
Soft cheeses and unpasteurized cheeses should also be avoided due to the potential presence of listeria bacteria. Fresh pate made from meat, fish, or vegetables can contain higher levels of listeria and should not be given to your baby.
Additionally, whole nuts and peanuts should not be given to children under 5 years of age to prevent the risk of choking. However, from 6 months onwards, crushed or finely ground nuts, as well as peanut or other nut butters, can be introduced.
Regarding soft-boiled eggs, babies should only consume eggs that have a very low risk of carrying salmonella and these can be safely consumed after being lightly cooked by babies and young children.
What can a baby drink safely?
When it comes to drinks for your baby, breast milk or infant formula should be their primary beverage until they reach 12 months of age. If you’re using infant formula, you can introduce follow-on formula after 6 months, but it’s not necessary as research shows no additional health benefits compared to the earlier infant formula that you were using. Soya-based formula should only be used under the guidance of a GP, and soya-based drinks can be introduced only after your baby crosses the12 months milestone.
There are certain types of milk that should be avoided before your baby turns 12 months old. These include cow’s milk and goat’s or sheep’s milk as a drink (though they can be used in cooking if pasteurized), as well as condensed or evaporated milk. Dairy alternatives like rice, oat, or almond drinks are not sufficiently energy or nutrient-rich for babies.
Water is best as a drink. From 6 months onwards, you can offer your baby filtered water. Avoid bottled water as it can have excessive mineral content. As for natural fruit juice, unsweetened varieties contain natural sugars. After 6 months, you can give your baby diluted, unsweetened fruit juice, but make sure to serve it in an open cup, dilute it well, and limit it to mealtimes to minimize its impact on teeth.
Certain drinks should be avoided for your baby at all times. Those with added sugars, such as fizzy drinks and milkshakes are not suitable. Diet drinks are also unsuitable as they can be harmful to teeth and may contain ingredients like caffeine that are inappropriate for babies. Additionally, avoid giving tea and coffee to babies as they contain caffeine, which can hinder the absorption of iron and other nutrients from their food, particularly when given during mealtimes.
Starting from 6 months of age, encourage your baby to drink from a free-flow or open cup. For babies who are bottle-fed, aim to transition away from bottles by the time they reach 12 months old to protect their teeth.
What is responsive feeding?
Responsive feeding is a feeding approach that revolves around recognizing and responding to your baby’s cues of hunger and fullness. It entails creating a warm and encouraging feeding environment without pressuring your baby to eat.
By adopting responsive feeding, you can promote a healthy eating pattern in your baby, ensuring they consume appropriate amounts of food to support their healthy growth.
· Moves head towards food or tries to bring food towards the mouth
· Reaches for food
· Points to food
· Gets excited when food is present
· Eating slows down
· Pushes food away
· Turns head away
· Clenches mouth shut
· Expresses desire for foods with words and sounds
· Shakes head to say ‘no more’
· Plays with food or throws food
· Combines phrases with gestures such as ‘want that’ and points towards food
· Leads caregiver to cupboard/fridge and points to desired food
· Uses phrases such as ‘all done’ and ‘get down’
Baby-led weaning shares some similarities with responsive feeding, particularly in terms of avoiding pressuring the baby to eat. However, baby-led weaning places a stronger emphasis on allowing your baby to feed themselves from the beginning of complementary feeding using finger-sized pieces of family foods. This approach eliminates the need for spoon-feeding pureed or mashed foods to your baby.
While research on baby-led weaning is currently limited, the existing evidence suggests that this method may have several benefits. It has the potential to reduce fussy eating behaviours and increase the enjoyment of food for babies. Furthermore, it does not compromise the quality of your baby’s diet or hinder their growth.
Good eating habits start early
Developing good eating habits in children should begin at an early stage and encompasses various essential aspects. It is crucial to familiarize your baby with the process of eating, which includes sitting up, taking food from a spoon, taking breaks between bites, and recognizing when they are full. These initial experiences play a significant role in shaping your child’s eating habits for their entire life.
To promote healthy eating habits, it is beneficial to encourage family meals right from the start. Whenever possible, try to have the entire family eat together. Research has indicated that regularly having dinner together as a family has positive effects on child development.
Apart from this, it’s important to provide a diverse range of nutritious foods that contain the necessary nutrients for your child’s growth and development. Pay attention to your child’s cues that indicate they have had enough to eat and avoid overfeeding.
Instilling good eating habits in your child early on is crucial. This involves introducing them to the process of eating, promoting family meals, offering a variety of healthy foods, and being mindful of your child’s hunger cues to avoid overfeeding. These practices lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.
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