The transition from a milk-only diet to introducing foods to your little one is a very exciting and emotional time for a parent, but it can also be daunting and stressful. Below are a few tips to help you with this important milestone.
When is my baby ready?
There are varying opinions as to when a baby should start eating food. There is agreement that solids should not be started before 17 weeks old. This is because your baby’s stomach is not mature enough, and should not be delayed later than six months, as milk feeds (whether breast or formula) alone are not enough to meet your growing baby’s nutritional needs.
There are a few cues you can look for to see if your baby is ready to start eating food. These include good head control, sitting with support, able to pick up objects with hands, interest in food and minimal tongue thrust. If you are unsure if your baby is ready to start eating, speak to your clinic sister, paediatrician or a paediatric dietitian.
How do I feed my baby?
There are a few methods you can use to feed your baby. Traditionally, babies have been spoon-fed smooth, pureed foods, but recently there has been a big movement towards baby-led weaning. This is when you give your baby soft finger foods that they can feed to themselves.
Following this method can help reduce picky eating and improve their gross motor skills. Often a combination of the two methods works the best – have a bowl of pureed food that you spoon feed as well as some soft finger foods that your baby can feed themselves. Expect a mess, follow your baby hunger and fullness cues (never force them to finish the whole bowl), and remember to do what works best for your family.
What should I feed my baby?
Your baby’s milk feeds will continue to make up most of their diet, with the amount of milk needed slowly decreasing as your baby gets older. Traditionally, rice cereal was the first food that was introduced into babies’ diets but more recently research has shown that vegetables and fruit as well as iron rich foods and healthy fats are the best to start with.
Introducing your baby to a variety of foods from an early age can help to prevent picky eating and promote a healthy relationship with food. There is no need to start with one food at a time, give foods which are commonly eaten in your house, just avoid adding extra sugar and salt.
Vegetables and fruit: there is no need to offer vegetables before fruit but do try to give more vegetables more often and offer a variety.
Iron-rich foods: Tender meats, eggs, beans, lentils and chickpeas, nut butters and green leafy vegetables. Pair these with Vitamin C containing foods to increase absorption of iron.
Healthy fats: Avocado, nut butters, full cream dairy products (cottage cheese and plain yoghurt).
TIP: Try to use food in its natural form, do not add salt or sugar, but rather use herbs and spices to flavour the food. Homemade food is preferred over store bought convenience foods. There are many healthier convenience food options – look for those without added sugar, salt and preservatives.
What not to feed my baby?
Before the first year of life, babies should not have honey, cow’s milk as a beverage (in the form of yoghurt, cheese and other dairy products are fine) or foods that could cause choking (hard or sticky foods).
Try to delay their exposure to sugar for as long as possible as well as highly processed foods as they are high in salt. Fruit juice and rooibos tea should also be avoided. Fruit juice is very high in fructose, and both will fill up your baby’s stomach without providing any nutrients.
How much to feed?
Start at a time of day when your baby is the happiest – after a nap or 45 to 60 minutes after a milk feed. If your baby is tired or very hungry, he or she may not be as interested in trying new foods.
Start with small portions – in the beginning the introduction of food is about exposure and getting your baby used to different textures and tastes. The amount your baby eats may vary. Do not be too alarmed at this stage as most of their nutrients are coming from their milk feeds. Initially feed your baby once a day and then increase this as per your baby’s interest and reaction to the food offered.
TIP: If your baby spits out the food or pulls a face, try again. It can take about 15 to 20 tries for a baby to accept a new food.
What do I need to feed my baby?
You do not need fancy equipment to feed your baby. A comfortable highchair is important for positioning. Try to find one with a footrest, a harness to strap them in (to prevent accidents) and one that can be easily cleaned. Choose utensils that are soft and easy for your baby to grip.
Remember to enjoy this stage of your baby’s development. Be patient as the process takes time, and every child is different, and try not to compare your child to others. Embrace the mess; let you baby play and interact with their food as it’s all part of the learning process.
A helpful resource when starting solids is Weaning Sense by Meg Faure and Kath Megaw.
Lyndall Metherell is a dietitian who consults in Claremont and sees patients at Life Kingsbury Hospital. She has a special interest in paediatrics.