By Jennifer House, MSc, RD
As a parent you want to give your baby the best start possible in life. Part of this includes the food they will eat. Starting solids is an exciting time for you and your baby, but often comes with many questions. The following information will help you decide what is best for you and your baby.
Not too soon
Some parents introduce solid foods earlier than the current six months recommended by Health Canada and Dieticians of Canada. It may be because they believe it will make baby sleep better or they think baby is hungry. It has not been proven that solids help baby sleep better. When baby goes through a growth spurt, your breastmilk supply will adapt and starting solids is not necessary. Remember that breastmilk is more calorie and nutrient dense than baby starter foods.
Also, baby may not be physically ready to break down solid food much earlier than six months of age.
It is not uncommon for baby to refuse solids. Don’t try to force baby to eat. So keep at it and continue to introduce a new food every few days. The main concern with late starts for solids is iron deficiency. Iron is important for immunity, brain growth and development and energy. Deficiency is easily tested for and there are visible signs such as pale skin and lethargy.
Choose the best time
to introduce solids. Often morning is a good choice because babies tend to be hungrier at this time. It also allows the rest of the day to watch for signs of allergic reaction. Food should be provided after breastfeeding because the milk is still the main source of nutrition for babies until about one year of age. If baby is older, offer the food before the milk so they are hungry and more likely to try the food.
You can start with just one meal a day. Add a second meal at about seven months and a third between nine and twelve months. Always watch for cues of hunger and fullness. Let baby decide how much to eat, whether it is none or three portions.
It is important to offer foods that contain iron because by six months, baby’s iron supply is decreasing. Infant cereals fortified with iron may not be the best choice. Meat offers more readily absorbable iron and is less likely than grains to be allergenic. Offer well cooked meats or legumes: chicken, beef, pork, kidney beans, or lentils. Puree and mix with breastmilk or water for thinner consistency.
After a few iron sources, you can introduce fruits and vegetables. Egg white and fluid milk can be introduced around 12 months of age. You can use goat milk or cow milk.
When baby is starting solids, you will need pureed food for about a month or so. Then move to mashed, then chopped foods. Around nine months add in finger foods and let baby do the feeding.
Some parent worry about choking. Understand the difference between choking and gagging. Choking means baby cannot breathe and therefore will not make any sounds. Gagging is a natural reflex to bring food from the back of the throat to the mouth to be chewed more.
Recognize there will be messy times because babies experience food with their hands as much as their mouths. Remembering it can be cleaned up will help you relax and that will help baby relax too.
Simple steps will ease the transition to solid food. Baby will love being part of the family table and exploring the new world of food.