Starting solids is an exciting time for parents and always makes for great photos too. But as each child has their own temperament and interest in foods, parents will have very different experiences each go around. When it came to starting solids in our home, we started one way and learned and grew from there with each of our children.
When I meet a mom who asks me about starting solids, I want to know if the baby is ready or if the parent or doctors is more ready than the child. For example, we look for the finger grasp, which coincides with the ending of the gag & tongue thrust. This often happens at the same time as when a baby finds the ability to sit up unassisted around the middle of their first year. Around the age of 6 months, baby’s digestive system is primed thanks to breastmilk and the risk of allergies has lessened as well. This doesn’t mean that 6 months-to-the-day is the right time…just that some time in this range for a child who was born on or near their due/guess date is a nice time to start the fun.
Breastmilk (or infant formula) is still the most important and nutritious food for the first year or more for your child. If you feel your child has the above signs, then watch for interest. You don’t have to have a special time for baby to have solids…make it a family/social time. Some meal times baby will be very into trying foods and other times, not so much. That is OK. I often tell moms that the morning is a good time to try but perhaps lunch is less rushed in your home? I learned the hard way not to offer a new food at dinner/bed time when A was had a very upset tummy from one new food!
If you are working outside the home, you may want to reserve this time to the weekend or vacation week so you can be there for the first time and then let your caregiver know your preferences. Starting solids when you are employed outside the home can sometimes take a little pressure off of pumping moms but try to keep your pumping regime the same until things are well established.
A lot of people will hear that rice cereal is a first food but I am truly against cereal for a multiple of reasons. There are many more highly nutritious and less processed foods for babies. If iron is a concern for you, know that babies can digest iron from far better whole food sources such as meats, ( eggs can be added later – consider allergies here) , dried fruits, beans, lentils and more. Babies would have to eat CUPS of cereal to get the amount of iron most pediatricians want them to have so talk to your baby’s health care provider about this.
If you are breastfeeding, you will want to nurse first before offering foods. If you are pumping, you can still pump while feeding solids, especially in the beginning because you will only be trying solids at first. This will be important for a few reasons…babies who are really hungry can get frustrated easily and you want to keep up your supply up as baby may love or hate different foods that are on your list.
Another great thing about keeping up your supply during this second half of the first year will be that you won’t have to be so scheduled and carry food all the time…you can still just breastfeed and keep it casual for a while and a lot less stressful that way. You will want to back off of solids if you see fussiness, a rash, diarrhea, constipation or any signs of allergy in baby too.
The nice thing about solids starting around 6 to 8 months is that it is more for experience and less about nutrition. Maybe your little one can try a “bite” of your fruit or lick a bit of mashed up meat or beans off your finger? You don’t have to buy special foods… you can simply cook what you usually do but maybe take a bit out on the side before you add the extra spice or salt. Baby can try more things because you are not having to do a lot of puree foods… in typical cases a fork or baby’s own finger and gums will be enough.
So, here is a bit of our experience with my A, S & Z. We had a high chair, which A used around 5 months…we even tried rice cereal which was suggested by her GI doctor for GERD. We later completely stopped the cereal and went to whole food options by the way! We would put a little chopped up pieces of avocado and banana on her tray and she would pick them up. Other things that work nicely are steamed carrots cut teeny, peas, boiled meats, etc.
With S, he hated any type of seat high chair so he just sat in our laps and enjoyed being held as we ate and he tried things at our family table. He also did not want to be fed at all so this is when we really discovered baby-led feeding…he would clamp his mouth shut when he saw me come at his face with a spoon so I would put it away and wait a week or two. He took his first bite of a solid at 10 months to-the-day! And he also did not agree to wear any of my adorable bibs. This is what I mean by temperament effecting how solids work in your home. Who knows if perhaps he would have had a reaction to something sooner as well?
Z had a totally different experience as well. He was about 5 /12 months and we were supplementing one bottle a day because of our supply/demand issues. So we did some fun things to introduce solids. I wanted his solids to replace that infant formula so that he could finally be completely on my breastmilk and nutritious foods alone. We offered him small amounts of foods – making sure as we did with A & Z to take it one food at a time just in case of a reaction like a rash or fussiness. He loved it! He ate with his hands but also liked us to feed him. He would hold Chewy Tubes filled with gooey or crunchy foods and chew on them. Baby mesh feeders were also a good option for all of our kids. A great tip we learned when A was teething was to put frozen grapes or cold carrots in those feeders!
A couple of websites I like specifically for breastfeeding moms who are starting solids:
La Leche League
The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year by Massaro and Katz and The Baby Book by Sears and Sears both have chapters on baby solids.
My Child Won’t Eat!: How to Prevent and Solve the Problem by Carlos Gonzalez is a wonderful option for parents who are feeling like they have to sell solids to their children.
There are a few good books out there now on Baby-Led Weaning as well!