One of the most debated topics in the parenting world is how to feed your child.
I usually sit back and watch these, because they can get intense! And really, how and what I feed my child isn’t really anyone else’s business to judge!
With that said, I do think it’s important to know all your options – of course, fed is best, but there are different ways to feed your child. You might find yourself frustrated with a baby who refuses all purees – and you might be relieved to find out puree/spoon feeding isn’t for everyone. So, I thought I’d share some basic information on introducing solid foods, so if you have come to that point in your baby-rearing journey, you can make the best decision for your family and child!
I am part of the PTPA Brand Ambassador Program with Philips Avent and I received compensation as part of my affiliation with this group. The opinions on this blog are my own.
Food before one is just for fun
This is what our pediatrician has said to us, and it’s the general consensus I have found as well. Your baby should really be getting the majority of their nutrition from breastmilk or formula for the first year – introducing solids during the first year is just really to introduce new flavors and to help prevent certain food allergies. Most of their calories won’t be coming from solid foods. So don’t feel too stressed out about getting in three meals a day and three snacks or anything like that right off the bat!
With that said, I know a lot of people take issue with this statement, and upon reading their arguments, I do tend to agree. The WHO does say:
“Around the age of 6 months, an infant’s need for energy and nutrients starts to exceed what is provided by breast milk, and complementary foods are necessary to meet those needs. An infant of this age is also developmentally ready for other foods. If complementary foods are not introduced around the age of 6 months, or if they are given inappropriately, an infant’s growth may falter.”
So no, food before one isn’t just for fun – it just doesn’t need to be a HUGE part of their diet until they approach the age of one.
Choose your Method
There are two main methods of introducing solids out there – Baby Led Weaning and Spoon Feeding.
Which one is right? Well, that all depends on your child.
When we introduced Jack to solids, he wanted NOTHING to do with purees. He took a bite or two, made a face, and then wanted to nurse. So, we let him. Around seven months, he started showing more interest in food – but he was interested in OUR food. So that’s what we did. I later found out this was called baby led weaning.
With Oliver, we did the same thing from the start. He loves to eat whatever we are eating. When I tried to give him some purees the other day, he made the most grossed out face (and it was even peaches!)
Baby Led Weaning is basically letting baby feed themselves from the start with table foods. It skips purees. This website is a great resource! Oliver is 7.5 months, but he’s eaten everything from ground beef and turkey to fruits and vegetables to pasta and pizza! He devoured some mole enchiladas the other day. He has two tiny teeth in the front, but those don’t really help that much. You just have to make sure they are eating appropriately sized food and make sure you watch them. It is much messier than spoon feeding (a lot more ends up on them and on the floor than probably in their mouth), but we really like it.
Our pediatrician is super supportive of it – she feels that by having children eat what everyone else is eating from the start, they are less likely to be picky (because they don’t get in the mindset that they get a different meal than everyone else). Jack isn’t picky at all, so maybe there is some truth to that! I like to think of baby led weaning as the lazy feeding method. I will say that sometimes I do feed Oliver rather than letting him feed himself (so I guess we do a “revised” version of BLW), but it’s always with whatever we are eating. I feel like it makes him feel more a part of the family table.
With that said, if you want to feed your baby purees – go for it! There is definitely nothing wrong with that, and it can be an easier method for some people. By spoon feeding, you can more easily control how much they are eating, and it’s a little less messy. It’s probably the most common method of feeding nowadays. This is a GREAT resource to let you know what kinds of foods your baby can try at different ages and stages.
According to BabyLedWeaning.com, the main difference between the two methods is this:
The key difference between BLW and traditional weaning, when you think about it, is in the order that children learn to eat. With a puree, they learn to swallow first and then chew, which works fine until they meet a lump. With BLW, the babies learn to chew first and swallowing might come some time later.
So, as with everything, do your research and pick the method that is best for you!
When to Start
I think this is the most debated thing I see. You’ll see different recommendations depending on what doctor you see, which website you read, or what your mom says.
Personally? We wait until six months. I’ve read things about the “virgin gut”, and while there is some debate about whether or not this is legit or not, I think it makes sense. The AAP and the WHO recommend breastmilk or formula being the only source of food until six months. I remember when Jack turned four months, a few people asked if we were starting solids, and it just seemed crazy – he was so little!
But just use your best judgment, research it on your own, and introduce solids when you feel your child is developmentally ready. While pediatricians are awesome, most don’t have extensive background in nutrition and don’t always have the latest information. Definitely get their opinion though and be on the same page.
In general, before introducing solids, your child should:
- Be able to sit up assisted (some say unassisted, but I don’t agree. Oliver is almost eight month and can’t sit up completely unassisted, but he is more than ready for solids!)
- Can hold up head unassisted
- Baby is interested in eating – our doctor said this is a big one. Some babies you can’t hold back from eating – that’s how Oliver was. When he was almost six months, he would get so mad when we were eating dinner. He wanted to eat! He was so excited when we started giving him food – and he still is.
- Loss of tongue-thurst reflux
- Have doubled birth weight
Honestly, some babies might be ready before six months, and some babies won’t be interested until later on. If your baby doesn’t want to eat foods at six months, don’t force it. Jack didn’t really start wanting anything besides breastmilk until after seven months. Some babies might not until eight or nine!
You should not introduce solids in an attempt to help your baby sleep through the night. This is a myth, and it is one that has been busted. Introducing solids is also not a good approach to increasing weight gain – in fact, introducing solids can actually slow down growth sometimes!
What Foods to Start With
Traditionally, parents start their child on a single grain cereal such as oatmeal or rice. However, this is not necessary or even recommended anymore. These really don’t have much (if any) nutritional value, and you don’t have to start with them.
Our pediatrician said that avocados or bananas are a great first food. Oliver’s first food was avocado, and he absolutely loved it. He really enjoys bananas as well. Some people say you should avoid introducing “sweet” food like fruits until they are established on more bland vegetables, but this wasn’t an issue with either of my boys.
It’s usually recommended that you wait three days before you introduce something new. I’m not very good about this (and let’s be real – if you did this, it would take years for them to try all the foods!) I think it’s good to introduce certain foods that are common allergens one at a time. But I don’t think you really need to wait three days with every. single. food.
Spices can be added to food whenever your baby is ready. It’s probably a good idea to avoid anything too spicy, but just use your best judgment. I feel like spices make food more interesting for babies.
Here are a few great foods to start with:
- Sweet Potato (this is a great combo of sweet potato, apple, carrot AND cinnamon!)
- Steamed vegetables (carrots, cauliflower, etc.)
- Pieces of toasts (this is Oliver’s favorite)
- Scrambled eggs
- Cubes or pieces of cheese
- Softened pieces of meat (Oliver loves ground turkey and chicken)
We actually really like the Lil’ Bits line of baby food. Oliver does not like purees, but he does like when we give him these because they have little chunks of real food in them. I actually think the fruit and veggie ones are pretty tasty!
What Foods to Avoid
Once upon a time, introducing common allergens like peanuts, egg whites, etc. were delayed. Now, current research shows that introducing them earlier may actually help prevent allergies in the future. So, there’s really not a lot of foods off-limits for the first year.
If there is a history of allergies in the family, though, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor or allergist for when to introduce certain foods.
You should still avoid anything containing honey for the first year to avoid the risk of botulism. It’s also a good idea to avoid anything with too much sugar, added salt, etc. Just be smart about it!
When and How Often
I’m in several parenting/breastfeeding support groups on Facebook, and it’s interesting to see some of the commentary especially in regards to introducing solids. A lot of women come in there with some really weird/off base advice that their pediatrician or mom or neighbor gave them – often that their baby only needs 10 ounces of breastmilk/formula a day, and that solid foods should be their primary source of nutrition by six months.
This is not true. As I said earlier, “Food before one is just for fun?” Until the age of one, your child’s main source of nutrition should still be breastmilk or formula. I know with breastmilk, the amount of breastmilk a baby needs doesn’t change from about six weeks to one year – your child should be getting about 24-30 ounces a day in that time period (and I believe it’s 26-34 ounces of formula a day). If you are exclusively breastfeeding with no bottles, just continue to feed on demand. So don’t cut out breastfeeding or formula sessions in place of solids – at least not at first.
It’s best to offer breastmilk or formula first, and about 20 minutes later, offer solids. You can start out just once a day, or once every few days, and gradually increase the amount of food they get. With us, I don’t really keep track. Some days Oliver eats a lot, other days not so much. I just let him nurse on demand and eat when we eat. It works for us.
Around six months, you can start to introduce other liquids, though they should be kept to a minimum. If you are breastfeeding, breastmilk is almost 90% water, so additional water isn’t really necessary. Between 4 and 6 months, limit extra water to two ounces. After six months, you can offer a little more water, but try not to do it in excess (maybe just a few sips to accompany meals.) Here is a great resource on water and infants.
Six months a great time to start introducing a cup or sippy cup though. Oliver actually loves drinking from a straw! If your baby refuses a bottle, they may be more keen to taking breast milk or other liquids from a cup or sippy cup.
We’ve used a lot of sippy cups over the years, and I’ve definitely found ones that I like (and ones that I swear I will never use again!) We recently got the Phillips Avent Spout Cup, and it is one of the best sippy cups we’ve used. It comes in a cute penguin style (in a variety of colors), and because of it’s angled silicone spout with a built-in valve, it’s 100% leak proof. I can’t tell you how many times we woke up to Jack’s sippy cups spilled all over his bed. No problem with that with these sippy cups!
The handles on them are easy to grip, so it’s less frustrating for a baby or toddler who is learning to use a cup. Oliver LOVES our cups, but he obviously can’t grip on them very easily. So, having nice, sturdy handles makes it easier for him to hold the cup. He doesn’t drink much from the sippy yet, but he thinks it’s so cool having a cup like everyone else. The cups are also BPA free, which I know is important to a lot of people! You can enter to win a set of these at the end of the post!
What About Gagging?
It’s scary to see your baby gag – but rest assured, gagging when introducing solids is normal. Choking, on the other hand, is not! From babyledweaning.com:
Gagging is actually a safety response to food travelling too far back into the mouth so when we see our babies gagging they are actually handling the problem and it’s best just to keep calm (or at least look calm) and wait until it passes. Choking, you will know about. The baby looks panicked, no or very little sound can come out, and lips may actually start turning blue. Be smart, educate yourself and know how to act quickly.
I highly recommend taking an infant CPR class before your child is born. Honestly, I feel like it’s something they should educate parents on thoroughly before they even leave the hospital!
There are a lot of great products out there to help you feed your baby – no matter what method you choose. Here are a few things I recommend:
- Under high chair mat
- Space Saver High Chair – this is great if you don’t have a lot of extra room.
- CoolIt Plate – this is great for cooling down hot food fast!
- Soft-tip infant spoons
- Soft divided plates
- Food Freezer Trays (for freezing homemade purees)
- FunBites Food Cutters
- Baby Food Feeder – these can be fun for babies who are wanting to feed themselves.
There’s No One Right Way to Do it
I think sometimes people see me letting Oliver eat whatever we are eating, and that I somehow am judging them for not doing that. Let me assure you – I am not! I also don’t care if you started your baby on solids before six months. Most parents just do the best they can with their babies, and what the best is varies from baby to baby, even within the same family. Listen to your mama or daddy gut – it’s usually right!