Many parents are familiar with this scene: It’s dinner time, and your baby is eyeing every bite of food you put in your mouth. Is it time for baby to try solid foods?
Solid foods can be introduced as early as six months of age, according to guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization. That’s when a baby’s digestive system is developmentally ready for food. Prior guidelines recommended starting solids at four months, but research has shown that introducing solid foods earlier could increase the chances of developing diabetes, obesity, allergies and eczema, according to Vanessa Chrisman, a pediatric dietitian at CHOC.
Age is not the only requirement for solid foods. A baby should also show the following signs of readiness: they can hold their head up, they can sit up without support, they can close their mouth around a spoon, and they no longer reflexively push things out of their mouth with their tongue.
“If a baby spits the food back out with her tongue every time a parent offers food, she’s probably not ready for solids yet,” says Chrisman.
At first, solid foods are more for practice and exposure to new flavors and textures, rather than for nutrition. A baby’s main source of nutrition will continue to be breast milk or formula up until one year of age. As a baby eats larger amounts of solid food and approaches the one year mark, they may begin to drink less breast milk or formula.
Solid foods are traditionally introduced in puree form. Single foods are blended to a smooth consistency and fed by spoon. As a baby eats larger volumes and tries more foods, parents can move on to a thicker texture: mashed foods. At around nine or 10 months old, a baby may start eating finger foods in small pieces.
Baby Led What?
Another method of introducing solid foods to babies is called baby-led weaning (BLW). This method has been popularized in the United Kingdom over the last decade and is starting to gain popularity in the United States.
“Baby-led weaning is a way of introducing solid foods beginning with whole but manageable pieces, and skipping purees and mashed foods,” Chrisman says.
Babies are offered foods that the rest of the family is eating, except for choking hazards such as whole grapes, hot dogs, raw carrots, popcorn, nuts, raisins and very tough meat. Parents can cook and spice the food as they normally would for themselves.
BLW teaches baby to feed themselves, helps them develop motor skills and gives them control over how much food they want and if they want it. “If they’re the ones deciding when to stop eating, it can help them regulate their appetite later,” Chrisman says.
A recent study by the AAP determined that babies are not at a higher risk of choking from BLW than they are with traditional purees. Regardless of the food method, it’s always a good idea for parents to know infant CPR, Chrisman says.
As with puree-fed babies, BLW babies must meet the same signs of developmental readiness before starting solid foods. One thing a baby doesn’t need, though, is teeth. “Babies have strong gums that can soften food, along with their saliva,” says Chrisman.
Chrisman recommends that parents choose the method that fits their baby’s personality. An independent baby may take to BLW more than a baby who prefers to be spoon-fed. The key to remember is that every baby is different: “What might work for your friend’s baby might not work for your baby,” Chrisman says.
Straight from a Pediatric Dietitian
Chrisman offers these expert tips to parents as they introduce baby to solid foods:
- Introduce simple foods one at a time, such as individual fruits, vegetables and proteins. Wait at least three to four days before introducing another food, to watch for adverse reactions. “Don’t go too fast, too soon,” Chrisman says. “Your baby has their whole life to eat all these foods.”
- As solid foods are introduced, give baby a variety, which will help ensure they will like a variety of foods later in life.
- Don’t add salt or sugar to baby’s foods. Not only could this cause baby to develop a taste for these strong flavors, it also prevents baby from experiencing the true flavor of a food.
- Model healthy eating habits. Include a variety of healthy foods on your own plate so baby will learn to imitate your behavior. Encourage your family to sit at the table together and put away distractions so baby understands what meal times should be like.
- “Make sure feeding time is a relaxing time, not stressful,” Chrisman says. Don’t force baby to eat more than they want and pay attention to their signals. If they are throwing food off their tray, pushing food away or turning their head away, they are done.
- Feed baby solid foods in between their regular mealtimes, when they’re only somewhat hungry. A hungry baby won’t have the patience for solid foods to reach their tummy.
- Avoid honey for babies under age one. Honey can carry spores that cause botulism, which is dangerous for infants.
- Avoid fruit juice before age one. A recent change in AAP policy says fruit juice should not be given unless a doctor recommends juice to manage constipation. The high sugar content in juice may increase a child’s risk of obesity and teeth problems.
- Avoid cow’s milk before age one. Cow’s milk should not be given on its own, according to the AAP, though it may be fed in other foods, such as whole fat yogurt.
- Don’t give up on foods that baby rejects a few times. It could take up to 15 times of trying a food before they like it.
- If baby isn’t eating any solids or purees by 10 months of age, talk to your pediatrician. There could be a feeding issue that needs extra help. Some babies may have an oral aversion to foods, oral motor dysfunction, textures issues and/or poor muscle tone.