1 – Why start with solids?
Breastmilk is possibly the most complete nutrition and can exclusively nourish a baby up to about 6 months of age. At about this age, breastmilk is still excellent for feeding a baby, but not exclusively, which is why we begin to introduce solids. Iron, zinc and vitamin A are the nutrients that the baby now needs in bigger quantities and so she begins to diversify her diet.
2 – At 4 or 6 months?
Some companies selling processed “baby food” insist that babies should start with solids at 4 months of age and indicate these specific directions on their products: “4+ months / from 4 months onwards”.
However, at 4 months of age, babies should not start solids especially because they are not yet ready to eat and their developmental stage in terms of motor skills and intestinal maturity is not yet mature enough to handle food.
All official recommendations, on the other hand, make it clear that solids should be introduced only from 6 months of age onwards. But this type of recommendation is a general guideline and not all 6-month-old babies are ready to start solids at that exact age. Just as each baby walks or talks at a different age, the same is true when it comes to eating food.
Therefore, each baby should be considered on an individual basis to see if she or he is ready for solids. Here are three things you need to consider, to check if your baby is ready to switch to a more diversified diet:
- Sits up by herself/himself or just needs little help
- Shows interest in food
- Has grown out of the protective gag reflex of the tongue (pushes out food) that makes her spit out anything she puts in her mouth
To be considered ready to start solids, a baby should meet all of those three requirements.*
3 – Breastmilk for dessert?
Dessert is not the main part of an adult meal, because dessert is something small, or a treat. Breastmilk (or formula milk) is not like a treat for a baby, but it has to be the main food until she or he is one year old. That’s why it is also called complementary feeding because its function is to complement milk (artificial or breastmilk), it neither eliminates milk nor does it replace it as a meal.
If a baby has breastmilk (or formula milk) like it would be a dessert, it does not take in all the calories it needs and this can harm its nutrition.
4 -What types of food to start with
The million-dollar question! But there is no answer, there is no single best food to start with. Depending on many factors such as the season of the year, your family’s traditional food and what you usually eat at home, you will have to make a choice as to which food to start with.
The only thing to keep in mind is that these foods must be healthy and safe. You should avoid offering your baby food that has a hard texture or very small food that can cause choking.
It doesn’t matter whether you start with fruit, cereals, vegetables or meat. However, once you start offering solids, you can also start offering water.
5 – What texture
In the last 30 to 40 years, the trend has been to offer baby food in a pureed and liquidized consistency. If you think about it, you will realise, that this does not make sense. Baby food is a relatively new concept and babies should move from the breast to family food, in a suitable texture, not mashed food, but in chunks.
Baby Led Weaning is a feeding trend based on babies feeding themselves. They will independently pick up pieces of food (under the supervision of an adult) and put them into their mouths. In this way, choking is avoided and suffocation caused by forcing the baby to swallow food is also prevented. And they are also given the opportunity to practise and learn to eat like adults.
In the same way, it is not advisable to offer your baby neither natural nor homemade juices. You can find out why in this article by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
6 – How many times a day
When starting with solids or complementary feeding, which is also sometimes referred to as weaning, it is more than enough to offer your baby food once or twice a day. It is also possible, that on some days and for logistical reasons you may forget to feed your baby solids, this happens easily and will stop little by little when your baby will become more interested in food and then it will be your baby who will ask for food.
7 – How much
In the same way, that most adults do not keep track of their food intake in grams, it makes no sense to want to feed babies by the gram. Only your baby knows the amount of food she or he needs. Yes, it may seem strange, but it should always be up to them to regulate the amount they want to eat by themselves.
And so usually, the amount they eat is very little, almost anecdotal. Do not forget that starting to eat is like a game for them, just like any other learning process, that should be fun and relaxed.
8 – What if my baby doesn’t want to eat?
It is normal that babies take a little while to accept the food they are offered. But it is important to never force them to eat and to never make them eat certain food. If your baby gradually shows more interest and starts experimenting and tasting food, you can both continue to enjoy the process.
On the other hand, if your baby is getting older and, despite not being forced, refuses to eat anything at all, it would be advisable to see a paediatrician to check on your baby’s iron levels. Sometimes, babies suffering from iron deficiency can be reluctant to eat.
9 – Salt, sugar, oil and other seasonings
Salt and sugar should not be part of a baby’s diet. The later they are introduced, the better.
Olive oil, on the other hand, is a fantastic ingredient, providing excellent quality calories and enriching a baby’s diet. All other seasonings, except spicy ones, are allowed and help to make meals more enjoyable.
10 – Eating as a family
Babies should never eat alone for two reasons: firstly, because of the risk of choking and secondly, because of the importance of watching adults eating. Babies learn to eat by watching others.
Eating should be a pleasant, relaxed family experience, with smiles and laughter to avoid mealtimes becoming a power struggle.
* There is a handy test in the LactApp App “Is my baby ready to start with solids?”.