Preparing to feed your baby solid foods can be an anxious time. We all want to provide the best possible nutrition for our little ones to help them grow and develop to their maximum potential, but we also need to reduce the risk of adverse reactions.
why are solid foods important?
Infants are born with good stores of nutrients such as iron and zinc, but by 6 months of age, these nutrient stores begin to run out and extra is needed from a baby’s diet. Rapid growth and development at this time means high nutritional demands. As well as meeting energy and nutrient needs, solid foods also assist in the development of chewing, swallowing, and language.
when to start?
During the first year, breast or formula milk remains your baby’s most important source of nutrition. Most are ready for some solid, or complementary, foods by around 6-months. If you are unsure of when to start your baby on solids, you can discuss this with your Well Child provider or GP.
When introducing solid foods, be guided by your baby and proceed at his or her pace; avoid force-feeding your child; and watch for cues they have had enough to eat. As long as they are growing and developing well, they are likely to be getting adequate nutrition, so you don’t always need to finish the whole bowl of food. Let your baby self-feed once they are able.
Start slowly and introduce first foods one at a time after a milk feed. Give about one teaspoon initially and gradually increase the quantity and thickness of the food over the coming weeks. Ideally, use a soft infant feeding spoon.
Suitable first foods include iron-fortified baby rice, cooked puréed fruit (apple, pear, peach or mango, sieved to remove fibrous or lumpy bits), puréed ripe banana or cooked puréed vegetables such as potato, kumara, carrot or pumpkin. Mix the food with the baby’s usual milk, to a consistency a little thicker than milk. Aim to provide 2 tbsp to ½ cup at one meal before offering solids at further meals. Once your baby is used to eating these foods, you may wish to try puréed well-cooked meat or chicken, or puréed cooked legumes; these foods will provide your baby with iron.
second stage: 7- to 8-months
Once your baby can manage quite thick puréed foods, you can start to introduce foods with soft lumps, and finger foods such as soft fruits and vegetables. Mash vegetables and fruit, progressing to lumpier foods. Continue to give the solids after the milk feed.
Make meal times fun and don’t be afraid of making a mess; let your baby explore, handle and play with different foods.
new tastes and textures: 8- to 12-months
At around 8-months, extend the range of tastes and textures. From around 8- to 9-months, solid foods can start to be offered before the milk feed. Although these foods will gradually replace milk, breast or formula milk should remain a prominent part of baby’s diet for the first year. By 12-months, a variety of family foods can be included in the diet.
commercial baby foods
Age-appropriate commercial baby foods can be convenient and easy to use, especially if you are away from home or have little time. However, if you rely solely on such foods, your baby won’t experience the full range of tastes and textures as the rest of the family. As often as possible, aim to include family foods in your baby’s diet.
There has been a growing trend in New Zealand and around the world towards ‘baby-led weaning’. This approach involves providing babies with whole foods (can be cooked or raw) in finger form rather than the more traditional puréed foods. There are positives to baby-led weaning. In particular, the baby takes the lead and decides what, and how much, food to eat. However, there are concerns about adequate nutritional intakes.
Research suggests that most infants probably have the skills to self-feed safely at 6-months, but more studies are needed to assess whether this will result in adequate growth and nutritional intakes. The New Zealand Ministry of Health does not currently recommend baby-led weaning; however, Otago University nutrition experts are researching this approach, and the Ministry will be reviewing new evidence as it becomes available.
All meal and snack times should be closely supervised, since babies and toddlers can choke very easily. Make sure your child is seated safely in an upright position during meals. Do not give hard foods such as whole nuts until children are at least aged 5. Chunky cereals that contain nuts or small pieces of dried fruit are also a choking risk. It is important that whoever is supervising knows how to respond if a child chokes, and gets appropriate assistance if required.
foods to limit or avoid
Limit the addition of salt, soy sauce, sugar or cream to infant foods as they provide no nutritional benefit. Honey should be avoided in babies under-1 (can cause infant botulism which is potentially fatal) .
Common food allergens include cow or goat milk and milk products, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, wheat and soy. If you are concerned about food allergies, introduce a new food every two days and give one new food at a time so any reactions can be clearly identified. If there is a reaction to any food, it should be avoided. Visit your family doctor who may advise you see an allergy specialist and/or paediatric dietitian.
Recommended fluids for your baby include breast or formula milk. Formula-fed babies may also need boiled, cooled water, especially in hot weather. Fruit juices, fruit drinks, fizzy drinks, cordials, soft drinks, tea, coffee, herbal tea and alcohol are not recommended for infants or toddlers. Use a sipper cup or open-top beaker from about 6-months, but be prepared for a bit of spillage among younger infants.
If you have any questions or concerns about feeding your baby, talk to your Well Child provider, family doctor or nurse.
Some signs that your baby might be ready for solid foods
- Seems to be hungry between milk feeds.
- Interested in watching others eat.
- Puts hands and other objects in mouth.
- Chews fists.
- Holds head up well.
- Mouth opens easily when a spoon touches the lips (tongue should not protrude).
Amanda Johnson is a Kapiti-based mum of two and private practice registered dietitian. She advises people of all ages with a wide range of special dietary needs. www.kiwinutrition.co.nz