At four months old my son sprouted two teeth, virtually overnight. He suddenly started showing interest in everything I ate, and began sucking down more and more milk. I found myself wondering if he could already be approaching a need for solids.
I wasn't ready to introduce him to solids just yet, and I wasn't convinced my son was quite ready either. But by the time my little man turned five months old it was apparent that he was indeed, ready. So where do we start? Our pediatrician had recommended rice cereal as an optimal first food, but there is so much conflicting information on whether or not rice cereal is really an appropriate first food for an infant. (More on that later.) The Weston A. Price Foundation suggests starting your baby on egg yolk at 4 months of age. Veggies or fruits first? Purées or baby led weaning? There are so many options! What's a mama to do?
When it comes to introducing solids there are basically two main approaches. I will be discussing the basic premise and some of the pros and cons of each. I am not, however, going to go in depth over which method is "better" or tell you how you should feed your child. I believe that it is every mother's right to decide what she feels is best for her baby and her family.
Methods For Introducing Solids:
Baby Led Weaning ~ Baby led weaning is a method of feeding your infant that was developed by British health visitor and midwife, Gill Rapley. Baby led weaning simply means letting your baby feed themselves from the very start, and skipping puréed foods and spoon feeding altogether. Your baby is entirely in charge of the feeding process. (Weaning in the UK has a different meaning than it does in the U.S. In the U.S. we refer to weaning as moving away from breastfeeding, whereas in the UK it refers to the introduction of solid foods.) It is recommended to start this method of feeding at 6 months of age, or sometimes even later, by putting pieces of table food, referred to as "finger foods" such as scrambled eggs, small slices of meat, pieces of fruit, and veggies in front of your child and let them feed themselves.
Saves time without the need for steaming and puréeing food for your baby (if you make your own baby food as opposed to store bought)
Introduces your baby to different textures right off the bat which may make them less picky eaters in the future.
Baby eats what you're eating, no need to make a separate meal, and baby can eat at the same time as the rest of the family.
Your baby is very involved in the feeding process and has control over what they choose to eat off of their plate and how much.
Provides opportunities to practice their eating skills and fine motor development by having to grasp food and put it into their own mouth.
It can be messy. Most of the food will end up on the floor and all over your little one's face, which my two dogs would surely appreciate!
Adults eat puréed and mashed foods too, so by avoiding them altogether baby isn't given the opportunity to learn how to eat those types of foods and may be opposed to those textures later on.
Baby may not get enough of the nutrition he/she needs. Since some of the food will end up on the floor it is hard to tell how much your baby has actually eaten. Sometimes babies may not get enough to eat with this method and can become deficient in certain essential nutrients. This can also lead to slower weight gain in some infants.
It is a choking hazard. Yes, babies can choke on puréed or mashed foods as well, but it is far less likely. Giving your child finger foods that are the wrong size or shape can lead to choking. Children should therefor be closely monitored when eating.
Traditional Feeding Method; Purées and Spoon Feeding ~ The more commonly known and often referred to as "traditional" method of introducing solids is with puréed and mashed foods fed by spoon to the baby by the parent or caregiver. With this method you may either steam and purée or mash your own food, or feed your baby with store-bought jars of baby food. (I highly recommend making your own baby food at home, preferably with organic ingredients whenever possible. Store bought baby food, even organic brands, is not fresh and therefor lower in nutrient value, and contains preservatives and other unnecessary additives.)
Teaches baby to swallow food and manipulate it with their tongue.
Low choking hazard. By offering your child purées and mashed foods, then working your way up to include some lumps, and finally then adding in finger foods, you are providing your baby with the time they need to learn how to manage different food textures at their own pace.
Easy, gradual introduction to real food.
Gets plenty of nutrients and a full belly.
You know exactly how much they have eaten.
Less mess. Since you are the one feeding your baby, less food is likely to end up on the floor.
Can require more time and prep if making you own baby food due to having to steam and then purée or mash up food until it is smooth.
It is difficult to eat at the same time as your baby since you are the one feeding them. Therefor if your baby is being fed during family dinner time, you are likely to be eating once everyone else is done.
Parents can give solely puréed foods for too long, making the transition to finger foods harder later on and potentially creating picky eaters.
Babies can be inadvertently overfed with this method.
How I Chose To Introduce Solids:
While I believe there are definite benefits to both of the above methods of introducing a baby to solid foods, I personally chose to start my son with organic, homemade purées and mashed foods that I feed him with a spoon. While I do purée his food, I do not do so until it is a perfectly smooth texture. There are some small lumps left in most of his food and he seems to do fine with them. He was just recently introduced to solids at 5 months of age, and my reason for going with the more "traditional" approach is because as a first time mama, I was not comfortable with giving him solid pieces of food right of the bat to eat on his own. I watch him closely and stop feeding him when he begins to lose interest or show signs that he has had enough to eat. Luckily for me, he is pretty good about self regulating and lets me know when he is done.
When I feel he is ready and capable of grasping pieces of food and feeding them to himself, I plan to introduce him to a few safe finger foods and see how he does. I do plan to continue to give him purées and mashed foods alongside of finger foods so that he enjoys all of the textures and develops the necessary skills to eat an array of different textures and foods. Some of my favorite foods as an adult are puréed and mashed. (Creamy mashed potatoes, puréed butternut squash soup... yum!) This is what I feel comfortable with and it works well for my family.
Good Starting Foods:
For the first year of your child's life, breastmilk (or formula) should be your baby's main source of nutrition. Solid foods are introduced as a way for your child to learn the skills needed to eat real food and acts as a secondary source of nutrition for the first 12 months.
While there is a lot of conflicting information out there about which foods are best to give your baby first; from veggies before fruits to avoid baby favoring sweet foods, to starting with rice cereal, to egg yolk or liver first, and so on, there's no wonder mamas can feel unsure of which foods are best to start with! If you think your little one could be ready for the introduction to solid foods, be sure to consult with your pediatrician first.
Avocado ~ good source of healthy, unsaturated fats, vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6, folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and sodium. Avocados also contain antioxidants and help to protect your little one's liver, they are easily digested, and taste mild and delicious.
Egg Yolk ~ contains DHA, choline, iron, and cholesterol which are all essential for baby's developing brain.
Vegetables ~ veggies such as broccoli, green beans, zucchini, squash, cauliflower, and root vegetables are excellent sources of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Peas, for example are a good source of vitamins A, C, B6, folate, niacin, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, sodium, selenium, zinc, and manganese. They have a pleasant, sweet taste, and can be easily puréed or can be a fun finger food for your baby to practice grasping. Plus, one cup of peas contains more protein than a tablespoon of peanut butter.
Fruit ~ Introducing a variety of vegetables prior to fruit can be a good way to go so that baby does not develop a preference for sweet foods right off the bat and then not accept the taste of vegetables later on. However, fruit also offers necessary health benefits and are certainly good early foods to give. Bananas can be given raw, while other fruits such as apples, pears, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, berries, and so forth should be cooked to help break down the fiber and sugars, making them easier to digest, up until baby is around 8 months old and can better handle raw fruit. Fruit with skins should be peeled before being given to your baby.
What About Rice Cereal And Oatmeal Cereal As A First Food?
Giving fortified rice cereal is often recommended by pediatricians as the ideal first food to give your child. Many commercial infant cereals are fortified with iron and other essential nutrients that babies begin to need more of than breastmilk can provide by the time they are 6 months old. However, they also contain other additives, sugars, and preservatives that are not ideal for an infant's sensitive system. Luckily, many pediatricians are beginning to understand that there are many benefits to starting babies on foods other than cereals.
If you were to look up the pros and cons of giving rice cereal as a first food to babies you will likely come across tons of articles with quite a bit of conflicting information. Many people advocate that babies under the age of one do not produce the digestive enzyme amylase which is necessary in order to break down and digest grains and starches, and that giving rice cereal or oatmeal cereal to infants can be harmful to their digestion and cause digestive problems later on. Others will say that babies do in fact produce amylase, though in smaller amounts than adults, and that they can indeed digest grains. Breastmilk also contains amylase. What about the arsenic levels of rice and rice cereals? So, how do we know whether or not grain cereals are a good option to give our babies?
This topic could be a blog post all on its own, so I won't go too in depth here, but I do think it is an important topic worth mentioning. I am not an expert on feeding babies solid foods by any means, but I will tell you what I chose to do and why. I did not start my son off on rice cereal or on oatmeal. I have steered clear of rice cereal due to the information out there about the arsenic found in rice. I chose to start my son on wholesome foods with only one ingredient; avocado. Then I introduced another single ingredient food a few days later, egg yolk. And so on. My son has had some homemade oatmeal cereal that I ground up and then blended with my breast milk. I do not use this as a regular food for him, but I am ok with him eating some grains, as I believe they do have many health benefits. In newborns, the amount of amylase is significantly lower than that of an adult. However, by the age of 5-6 months babies produce enough amylase to digest complex carbohydrates and grains. Oats are high in fiber, iron, magnesium, and zinc which are all essential nutrients for a growing baby.
Signs Your Baby May Be Ready For Solids:
Your baby may not have all of these signs and can still be ready for solids, but below are some good indicators your little one could be ready for more than just milk.
Most pediatricians will recommend that a baby is ready for solids between 4-6 months of age. I feel 4 months is a bit young, but 5-6 months is a good starting point and their digestive systems are more mature at that age.
Baby has lost the "tongue thrust" reflex.
Baby can sit up with some support or on their own.
Baby shows interest in the food you are eating.
Baby has good head and neck control.
Baby has one or more teeth.
*Please note that I am not a doctor or nurse. I am a mama with a background in holistic nutrition who has done my research. This post is for informational purposes only. If you are unsure whether it is time to introduce solids to your baby or not, or have questions as to what foods you should start with, please consult your child's Pediatrician.