Starting solid foods with your little one can be an exciting, but sometimes stressful time. While your baby may be excited to start trying foods they see mom and dad eating, parents may feel anxious and nervous about this next step. Not all babies are ready for this stage at the same age, and their preferences for flavours and textures also differ. When starting your baby on solid food, its important to watch them for cues and allow them to help guide you on how quickly to progress.
When should my baby start on solid foods?
The current WHO guidelines state that infants should exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of life and complementary foods be introduced around this time. Around six months of age, infant's needs for certain nutrients increases beyond what is provided in breast milk, so adding solid foods helps to fill this gap.
What foods should I start with?
First foods should be iron-rich. The traditional first food is an iron-fortified infant cereal or pablum, however current guidelines suggest any iron-rich food is an appropriate first food for your baby. Iron-rich foods include beans, legumes, split peas, meats, fish*, poultry, tofu, eggs, and a variety of iron-fortified single grain infant cereals.
*Fish can provide your child with important omega-3 fatty acids. However, when choosing fish for your child, opt for a smaller breed that has a lower concentration of mercury in it's meat. These varieties include salmon, rainbow trout, pollock, whitefish, and mackerel (among others).
What texture should I provide?
Every child is different, each with their own flavour and texture preference. Some babies enjoy purees, while others show less interest. To determine what your baby likes best, try with a few different textures. Start by offering your child a smooth puree, then add small pieces of soft fruit or well-cooked vegetables. These can be offered on the side or mixed into the smooth puree for a lumpy consistency. Easy to melt teething biscuits or meltable puffs are also another texture to try with your baby, however provide little nutrition.
How often should my baby feed solid foods?
Start by offering your baby solid foods once per day, then gradually increase to twice, three times, and four times per day. It's a good time to set up a feeding schedule or routine when starting solids with your baby. This sets the stage for good eating habits in the future.
When first introducing solids, it will be complementary to their breast milk or formula and you may not notice a change in breast or bottle feeding. As your baby starts to take more nutrition from solid foods, it is normal to see a shift in less frequent nursing or bottle feeding.
How much should I give my baby?
This is a very common question. How much should I give my baby, and what is a serving size for a baby? There isn't a defined volume or serving size, but starting with 1 tablespoon of solid foods per day is a good place to begin. Watch your baby for cues to determine if this is enough. Avoid forcing or overly encouraging them to finish it. Overtime, your child will learn how to take the small amount and will soon be looking for more. Let your child guide you. If they are looking for more, offer more, just don't push it if they give signs they are finished. Signs your child my use to demonstrate the meal is over could be a closed mouth, pushing the spoon away, and/or turning their head.
What about food allergies?
Older recommendations had health care providers suggesting to delay certain foods, however this advice is no longer given. More recent guidelines suggest introducing foods that are higher on the allergy-risk scale to minimize potential allergic reactions in the future. If there is a family history of food allergy or eczema in the family, consult with a dietitian or other health professional first, to learn how to best introduce these foods to your child. For those without a family history of food allergies/eczema, foods that were historically delayed* can be added into the diet shortly after your infant starts with solids.
*Honey is an exception to the rule and it should only be introduced to your baby after 12 months of age to prevent botulism. Botulism is a rare but serious form of food poisoning.
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