Transitioning from breast milk or formula to solid foods is a significant milestone in your baby’s life. As a parent, you want to ensure you do everything right when introducing solids. This is also the best time to prevent food allergies in babies. What foods you give your baby, as well as your timing, will make all the difference. Here’s how to introduce solids while promoting optimal health for your little one.
When Should I Start Introducing Solids?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that you start introducing solids, in addition to breastfeeding, when your baby is about six months old. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this is general advice - some sources recommend as young as four or five months.
In reality, timing varies from baby to baby because their weight and development play a huge role in their food needs. Your baby should be about double their birth weight before they’re ready for solid foods. Generally speaking, they should weigh at least 13 pounds.
If your baby is ready for solid foods, they’ll likely display the following behaviour:
- Holds head upright and steady
- Sits with support
- Mouths on their hands and toys
- Shows interest in your food, like opening their mouth or leaning forward
- After periods of sleeping well, suddenly wakes at night wanting more milk
Your baby should also react with natural eating reflexes when you do offer them food. For example, your baby might not be ready for solid food if they push food out of their mouth and onto their chin. However, if they do transfer the food from the front to the back of the tongue and swallow it, they’re likely ready for solids.
How to Introduce Solids
What does introducing solids actually look like? It’s best to start small and simple.
Begin with a small meal each day, like lunch. Over two to four weeks, slowly build up to include breakfast and then dinner, until you’re offering the baby solids at all three meals.
Types of Food
Keeping things simple, give your baby single-ingredient foods with no added salt or sugar. In general, the order doesn’t matter. However, you should try to balance the vegetables you offer with fruit, as too much fruit may influence your child to prefer sweet flavours.
At four to six months, the best vegetables to start with are avocado, carrot, pumpkin, kumara (sweet potato), and courgette. Pear, apple, and melon are great fruit options.
At six to ten months, you can incorporate the following foods as purees or mashed with a bit more texture:
- Gluten-free grains, like millet, quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth
At 10 to 12 months, you can add:
- Lamb and beef (start with broth first)
- Egg yolks
- Nightshade vegetables (slowly), like eggplant, tomato, and potato
- Crushed nuts and seeds, as well as nut butters
- Rye, barley, oats
Finally, after your baby turns one, you can begin introducing solids like:
- Milk and dairy
- Poached fish
- Dried fruit
You may also consider giving your baby a fortified cereal, as iron and zinc are key nutrients from ages six to 12 months. To do so, mix 60 millilitres of breast milk or formula with 1 tablespoon of iron-fortified, single-grain cereal. Be sure to avoid rice-based cereal as this could expose them to arsenic. Serve this to your baby while they sit upright, offering the cereal in a small spoon. Over time, they’ll get used to swallowing the softened cereal and you can increase the serving size and decrease the liquid content.
Preparing the Food
If you’re preparing your baby’s solid food, use the following tips:
- Puree or mash fruits and vegetables until they are completely smooth.
- Cook harder fruits and vegetables, like carrots or apples, so that you can puree them.
- Mix grains and cereals with water, breast milk, or formula to soften the food.
- Mash or grind cooked rice, barley, or whole-grain wheat.
- All food that is initially offered should be soft enough to mash with a fork.
- Remove bones, skin, and fat from any meat or fish before cooking.
Keep in mind that your baby is experiencing completely new textures and flavours, so they might split up, gag, or cough. They might even refuse their first feeding because they aren’t used to the food. Instead of forcing it, wait a week and try again. It can take up to ten tastes before your baby accepts a new food, so keep trying.
How to Avoid Food Allergies in Babies
For years, the standard advice from paediatricians and allergy specialists was to wait to give children any food that could potentially cause an allergic reaction until they were over a year old. Some even recommended waiting to serve nuts until two or three years of age.
However, much research shows that this is incorrect. In studies of thousands of children, those given these foods earlier had a lower likelihood of allergies. With that said, if your child does have any known or suspected food allergies, you should talk to your doctor before introducing solids.
So how do you avoid allergies in babies? Give them foods one at a time, even foods that may cause allergic reactions. As you go about introducing solids, wait three to five days between every new food. During this time, feed the baby the new food every day and monitor your baby for any reaction that may show that your baby is rejecting the food.
Signs of reactivity include:
- Puffy eyes
- Nappy rash
- Digestive upset
After three days without reaction, stop feeding the child that food every day, but offer it to them about once every four days. This is because you can cause a food reaction from overexposure.
Common potentially allergenic foods include:
- Cow milk
- Peanuts and tree nuts
- Crustacean shellfish
Allergenic Food Timing
So when do you introduce these allergenic foods? Use the following tips:
- Start highly reactive foods around 10 or 12 months. This includes dairy, wheat, citrus, potato, eggs, fish, chicken, nuts, gluten-grains, tomato, kiwifruit, citrus, and strawberries.
- If there is any family history of an allergy to dairy, wait until at least 12 months to offer dairy. Goat, nut, and seed milks are a great alternative.
- Wait until 9 to 12 months to offer wheat, especially if you’re concerned about an allergy.
The most important thing to remember when introducing solids to your baby is to take things slow. Start simple and small, but be sure to include potentially allergenic foods in order to help prevent food allergies in babies. For individualised advice on how to introduce solids to your baby, contact our QBaby Naturopaths today!