Starting solids is an exciting milestone in your little one’s development. It not only opens up a whole new world of textures and flavors for the tiny tot, it also is the initiation for your baby on the path to growing healthy and strong. Let us see the best practices in starting solids for babies.
When should I start solids?
Solids must be introduced to little ones gradually, without overwhelming them. Solids started too early increases risk of obesity, choking and digestion problems, while late beginners cultivate an aversion to food with slowed growth. Babies generally show curiosity towards food sometime around 6 months, which is a good time to take their cuisine to another level.
The Right Time
Though you might be tempted to jump on the solids bandwagon sooner than later, waiting till your baby is 6 months is the smarter choice. Introducing your baby to solids early can trigger many allergies. From their tiny tongues that push out food rather than swallowing to developing intestines that lack digestive enzymes, starting solids early can be hard on 4 to 5 month olds. Your baby can fulfill all his / her nutritional needs exclusively from breast milk or formula alone for the first 6 months.
Bringing the solids too early can also compromise the future relationship of the baby with its food. The baby may inherently internalize the habit of running away from food because of parental pushing when the baby is not ready. If your baby is formula fed, early beginning of solids especially can lead to obesity later.
On the other side, waiting for too long isn’t the wisest decision either. An older baby, say 9 months or older, will resist learning new skills like swallowing and chewing, preferring to stay on the path of formula feeds and breastfeeds. Also, like habits, tastes can also be hard cemented by this stage. Unlike young infants, older babies might not be open to experimenting with new flavors or textures when milky liquids have long monopolized the daily meals.
Signs that your baby is solid ready
• If your little one can hold his head steady and sit for short periods with support. (This is essential for proper swallowing and reducing risks of choking)
• Your little one is interested in what you eat. He / she is curious about what you eat and reaches out for food and tries to mimic you.
• Your baby has learned to differentiate sucking reflex from swallowing by moving food to the back of the throat for swallowing. Some babies take time to learn this and may keep pushing food out of the mouth. Try soft purees after some time to see if your little one is ready.
How to Introduce Solids
Getting the hang of feeding solids is a gradual process. And every baby conquers it in their own sweet time. Here are some helpful guidelines to help you:
• No Solids in Feeding Bottles: Never put cereals or purees into baby feeding bottles. It is a choking hazard, can cause obese babies and will not help your baby learn how to eat solids.
• Begin slowly: Begin with half spoon solids gently introduced in the middle of breastfeed or formula feed and finish off again with formula or breast milk. Gradually work your way up. If your baby cries at the sight of the spoon, try again at another session.
• New food more than once: Babies have more taste buds than us grownups and their sense of taste is dynamic and evolving. So, always try new food for 5 or 10 times before you expect your baby to like it.
• One food for three days: When introducing each new grain, vegetable, nut or fruit, feed the same exclusively to your baby for 3 days without introducing other new food. This can help you identify whether a particular food is causing your baby troubles or allergies.
• Trial and error: Try the same food in different forms for your baby. If your baby isn’t fond of purees, try them mashed. It is all about trying new textures and tastes and finding the sweet spot through trial and error.
• Cooking: Pick cooking methods that preserve the most nutrients in food. Try to steam vegetables and fruits instead of boiling.
The Best First Foods for Your Baby
No matter what food you pick, your baby’s first food should be smooth and dripping off the spoon. As your baby becomes a more experienced eater, you can gradually reduce the liquid and thicken the texture. Here are the three best first foods for your baby
Grains: When starting with grains, pick a single grain, whole grain, iron enriched variety. Soak some grains overnight and extract the milk and cook it to make porridge. Don’t begin sweetening the porridge with bananas or sweeteners yet – let your baby experience ‘plain’ porridge before they learn ‘sweet’.
Vegetables: Begin with milder flavored yellowy vegetables like potatoes and carrots before moving on to the greeny spectrum like beans or peas. Greeny vegetables generally have stronger flavors and can be hard to accept for the babies.
Fruits: Fruits are the winners of the baby first food award, being delicious and easily digestible. Finley mashed bananas, pears, peaches, applesauce make fine first foods. Pureed ripe avocados are another yummy and healthy option loaded with nutrients and fats.
Foods to avoid
Honey: Honey is an all natural gift of nature which isn’t quite suitable for babies. Honey can carry spores of the bacterium clostridium botulinum which can develop into botulism in infant intestines. Older babies have mature guts which can fight off the bacterium; so you should avoid giving your baby honey till they are past the one year mark.
Milk: Cow’s milk and carton milk are heavy for babies. Babies cannot digest the milk proteins, so the milk is not nutritiously beneficial. Also, the minerals present in milk can damage your baby’s kidneys due to added stress. Undigested milk can cause flatulence, diarrhea, stomach pain and make babies fussy. It is best to stick to mother’s milk or formula in the first year and experiment with cow’s milk / carton milks later.
Veggies and water with Nitrates: High amounts of nitrates can cause a rare type of anemia in infants. To keep your baby safe, do not feed them veggies like carrots, squash, spinach, beets, lettuce or green beans, cooked or raw until they are 3 months old. After 6 months, you can reduce the risk of this anemia by:
• Continuing to breastfeed after introducing these vegetables. Breastfeeding prevents the anemia. Citrus fruits containing vitamin C can also help absorb iron.
• Strictly avoiding both commercial and homegrown vegetables before 6 months.
• Not preparing formula from well water / ground water which is high in nitrates.
• Freeze or use baby food within 24 hours. Storing vegetables and baby food in refrigerator can increase nitrates.
Fish: Fishes high in mercury such as shark, tuna, swordfish and mackerel should be avoided for children that are less than a year old.
Raw Runny Eggs: Unpasteurized raw, under cooked or runny eggs may carry bacteria that can be harmful to your little one. Avoid food with raw eggs like mayonnaise.
Salt: Babies need less than a gram of salt a day because their kidneys are not fully equipped to process large quantities of salt. All processed food with sodium is harmful for babies. Purees can be made salt less for little ones.
Sugar: Many babies love and enjoy sugary treats. If your baby has a sweet tooth, give her ripe fruits and naturally sweet berries. Avoid adding sugar or salt to baby food.
Juices: Juices for babies are just empty liquids devoid of valuable fiber. Most juices targeted for young ones are just some flavor, water and lots of sugar – so they are more bad than good. You can give no more than 100% unsweetened 100 ml juice each day for babies until they are a year old.
Drinks: Avoid all types of teas, coffees and unpasteurized milk products.
Hard textures: Babies older than 6 months can eat lumpy, tender cooked, pureed, minced, mashed or ground food. Whole seeds, whole nuts, hard chunks like raw carrot bits, candies, popcorn, marshmallow, small bits like whole grapes or raisins, and lumps of nut butters are all choking hazards for little ones. Also, food with mixed textures like soup with bits of chicken or veggies are very hard for babies to understand when first exploring solids.
Looking out for allergies
Experts do not recommend avoiding certain foods because your family has a history of allergies. You can go ahead with peanuts, cheese, yoghurt, soy, wheat, sesame, tree nuts and eggs right from 6 months. But take care to observe your child closely after introducing each new food.
Also, wait a week before introducing any other new food to completely rule out allergies. Look for reactions such as hives, rashes, swelling or redness after introducing such food. More serious allergies can cause gassiness, mucus in stool, vomiting, watery eyes and wheeziness that isn’t caused by cold.
Expect lots of messes
If you let them, babies can quickly learn lots of skills like swallowing, chewing and using spoons, sporks, and sippy cups. As your little one experiments and grows, expect loads and loads of messes along the way. Using a high chair with a rim can help keep the bowls and plates from falling off; a detachable tray can be carried to the sink for easy washing.
In the first solid months of 6 to 9, your baby will still likely depend on breast milk or formula for most of his nutritional needs. The general idea of starting at 6 months is to encourage your baby to learn new skills and develop a healthy relationship with food. Let your baby play with food and make sure she has a seat in the family dining table. What baby see, baby do. So, take small bites of food and smack your lips and say ‘super’ ‘yummy’ ‘tasty’ to encourage her to do the same.
The time to stop is as important as the start time. If your baby clenches her jaws, pushes the spoon or turns her face away, let her go. Forcing food will only sow seeds for a turbulent relationship with you and food.
We hope you have a messy and exciting solids journey ahead!