Introducing solid food is a time of excitement and experimentation for babies and their parents.
Learning the mechanics of taking food from a spoon, chewing and transferring it from the front of the tongue to the back of the mouth and then swallowing takes time and lots of practice.
Don’t worry if, at first, all your baby seems to do is spit it out. Not only do babies have more sensitive taste buds than adults, they also have many more. Even the most subtle flavours can seem quite strong to a young baby.
The current recommendation from healthcare professionals is that babies should not be offered solid foods until they are six months of age.
Even after solids are introduced, milk still needs to be their predominant source of nutrition in the first twelve months of life. Breastfeeding mothers and their babies still gain significant health benefits by continuing to breastfeed for as long as they are both happy to do so.
Breast milk or formula contains all the nutrients babies need for their body and brain to grow and develop in their first six months of life. After this age, iron and zinc stores start to deplete and need boosting through additional dietary intake. Extra kilojoules are also necessary to fuel growth in the second half of the first year.
There are no benefits to introducing solid foods prior to six months. Some parents believe that doing this will support their baby towards improved sleeping overnight. However, there is no guarantee that this will happen.
Babies are still entitled to at least one overnight breast or bottle feed until at least six months of age.
There is a range of classic readiness signs which babies show they are ready to ingest more than just milk. Look for a combination of these:
- When your baby can hold their head reasonably steady, has some upper body control and is able to sit upright.
- When they are showing interest in what is going on around them, particularly when you and others are eating and they’re keen to do the same.
- When their tongue thrust reflex is not so obvious. This is a sign that they’re ready to stop automatically pushing food back out of their mouth but instead, make some attempts to chew and swallow.
- When your baby does not seem satisfied with just milk feeds. At around six months they may want to feed for longer, more frequently and not be as satisfied with what they’ve been having.
Soft, pureed and easily swallowed foods are ideal to start with. Don’t be disheartened if, at first, your baby isn’t too impressed. A small amount on a soft, shallow plastic spoon is preferable. Offer one solid meal of a few teaspoons each day until your baby is looking for more. If they are keen, then slowly graduate to a couple of tablespoons two to three times each day. Let your baby guide you in how much they want to eat.
Baby led weaning is becoming very popular and some parents are keen to hand over the onus of eating control to their child from the very beginning.
But it is still important to monitor which foods, how much and the consistency of the food you are offering.
Babies can quite literally, bite off more than they can chew and be at risk of choking.
There are no hard and fast rules about introducing solids. Other than taking it slowly and being sensitive to your baby’s responses. Offering one new food at a time is ideal; if they have any problems or reactions to a particular food then it is easier to identify which one it is likely to be.
Start off by offering one solid meal each day for a few days until your baby is used to it. If there are no problems, then you can grade them up to two meals each day and after a few more days, offer three.