baby eating solid food

Introducing Solid Foods

The first year of an infant's life is quite remarkable. Things change so quickly, and it seems like every time you turn around, your baby is conquering some new milestone. Throw in the fact that as a parent, you don't get much sleep, and that whole first year goes by in a spectacular, blissful, overwhelming blur.

One of the big milestones in the first year is starting solids. In this article, we walk though everything you need to know to introduce your little one to the wonderful world of food.

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When Should Your Baby Start Solids?

Most babies are ready to begin eating solids when they are 4 - 6 months old. If you want to know if your little one is ready, look for the following signs:

  • Tongue thrust reflex is diminishing. Young infants have a reflex that causes them to push things out of their mouths with their tongues. This helps to prevent them from choking. However, as they grow, this reflex begins to diminish, which allows them to start eating solid foods.
  • Sitting with support. In order to start eating, your little one will need to be able to sit up. Actually, babies don't need to be able to sit on their own. They just need to be able to sit when supported. That way, you can put them in a high chair and begin serving up something tasty.
  • Head control. Since your little one will need to sit up to eat, they will also need to be able to support and control their head when sitting.
  • Mouthing hands and toys. This is one way that infants explore the world around them. When they start mouthing things, it's usually a sign that they are interested in trying to eat.
  • Interested in food. If your little one looks at and reaches for your food when you start eating, it's a strong sign that they are getting ready to try eating as well.
  • Seems hungry after milk. Introducing solids doesn't mean that you stop nourishing your little one with breast milk or formula. It just means that they start taking in more calories. So, if your baby still seems hungry after a full day's worth of milk, they might be ready to start in with solid foods.

It's also worth mentioning that even if your little one is showing all the signs of being ready before they reach 4 months of age, it's still a good idea to wait. There are a lot of foods that babies shouldn't eat before 4 months. So, it's easier just to wait for them to reach this age.

pureed food

How To Introduce Solid Foods

In the beginning, you will want to give your little one simple, single ingredient foods that contain no sugar or salt. Try each new food for 3 - 5 days in a row. That way, you will be able to tell if the new food that you introduced is causing any issues or allergies.

After your little one has tried several single ingredient foods, you can begin to combine them. Just be sure to combine two foods that your baby has had already individually.

Keep in mind that food is not a replacement for breast milk or formula. In fact, the majority of your little one's nutrients should continue to come from breast milk or formula even after starting with solids.

When To Eat

When your little one is 4 - 6 months old, they are ready to start having two solid food meals each day. Each of these meals should be 2 - 4 tablespoons.

In the 6 - 9 month old range, it's a good idea to start introducing the concept of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At first, your baby may not always want to eat at these times. But, sooner or later, they will get used to eating on a schedule. At this point, each meal should be roughly the size of your little one's fist.

What To Eat

As your little one develops, there are certain nutrients that are really important. For example, zinc and iron are important in months 6 - 12. You can help ensure that they get everything they need by giving them the right foods. By the way, infants between 6 and 12 months old will try just about anything. So, that is the time to broaden their culinary horizons. Here are some foods to try in the early days:

  • Baby cereal. This is a great one to start with. You can serve cereal based on rice, oats, or barley. In the beginning, mix in a lot of breast milk or formula so that the cereal is fairly runny. Once your baby gets the hang of it, you can cut back the amount of breast milk or formula that is mixed in to change the consistency.
  • Vegetables and fruits. At first, you will want to puree vegetables and fruits. As your baby gets to be a bit more experienced, you can chop these up into small bites instead. That usually happens around 8 - 10 months. 
  • Meats. These can be a great source of iron. Believe it or not, it's perfectly fine to puree meat after it's been cooked. Once your baby is ready to start eating finger foods, you can move to chopping up meat into small pieces.
  • Snacks. Mixing in cheese, crackers, dry cereal, and pasta can be a good way to add some variety as your little one approaches the 9 month mark.
  • Breast milk or formula. You should continue to give your baby breast milk or formula until they reach one year of age.

When you're serving up pureed food, you can either buy it or make it on your own. It's actually pretty easy to make. All you need is a blender or food processor. You might also want to get some small storage containers so that you can save extra food in the freezer or refrigerator. Some parents just use ice cube trays to store small portions.

chopped strawberries

A Few Foods To Avoid In The Beginning

In the past, parents used to avoid highly allergenic foods like eggs, fish, peanuts and tree nuts. However, the latest thinking on this has changed. In fact, desensitizing children to these types of foods can actually prevent allergies.

That said, if you have lots of relatives with food allergies, you will want to take some precautions. For example, start with a small portion when trying a new allergenic food and serve it at home for the first time instead of at a restaurant. It's also a good idea to have an oral antihistamine handy and to talk with your doctor first.

Here are a few foods that you will want to avoid in the first year:

  • Cow's milk. This doesn't meet infant nutritional requirements, and isn't a good source of iron. So, stick with breast milk or formula.
  • Honey. This may contain spores that can cause infant botulism.
  • Potential choking hazards. There are lots of foods that can be quite dangerous for an inexperienced eater. Examples include hot dogs, large chunks of meat, large chunks of cheese, whole grapes, raw vegetables, popcorn, hard candy, nuts, and peanut butter. There are many others as well. So, be sure to think about this each time you go to feed your little one.

A Few Things To Keep In Mind When Feeding Your Baby

Starting solids is an exciting time for parents and babies alike. In order to help ensure that things go smoothly, you will want to set the stage for success.

Give your baby your undivided attention, so that you can help guide those first bites. It's a good idea to stay seated with your baby and to talk to them as they start to eat. It's also a good idea to turn off the TV and loud music. That way, your baby can focus on the task at hand.

While the first few months of eating can be quite messy, you should encourage your little one to explore their food. Introduce children's utensils as well, so that they can start to learn to use spoons and forks (though mastering these takes a while).

Be sure to always serve your little one from a bowl or a plate. You don't want your baby to eat out of a large container, as anything that isn't eaten will be contaminated and spoil more quickly.

baby eating

How To Tell When Your Baby Is Full

Babies generally aren't too subtle once they have decided that they have had enough to eat. In a lot of cases, they will lean back in their chairs and turn their little heads away from the food in front of them. Sometimes they simply refuse to open their mouth for the next bite.

You might also observe that your little one will start playing with the food and utensils. This is perfectly fine. But, if you notice that the meal has become all play and no eating, it probably means your little one is finished.

What If Your Baby Refuses To Eat?

It's not uncommon for babies to refuse to eat in the beginning. Even when they are showing interest in food, the textures and tastes are new to them and take some getting used to.

If you're little one resists solid food, don't try to force it. Instead, just wait a few days and then try again. The last thing you want to do is to create a power struggle over eating. If the problem persists, you can talk to your doctor. But, most babies come around after a little while.

A Couple Of Things To Watch For When Starting Solids

As your little one starts to eat solids, there are a couple of things you will want to watch.

Constipation

When your baby's diet changes, their stools change as well. You will notice the color changes, and unfortunately, the odor becomes stronger.

Since their digestive system is being challenged with something new, some babies experience constipation. If you notice that your little one's bowel movements are becoming infrequent, or that stools seems dry or hard to pass, you should talk to your baby's doctor. Often times, the best solution is to mix in some fruits that are high in fiber to help move things along. Pears, prunes, and peaches all tend to work well.

Allergies

If your baby is allergic to a new food, you'll usually see signs within a few minutes or hours. Talk to your doctor if you notice hives, vomiting or diarrhea. If your baby is wheezing, having difficulty breathing, or experiencing facial swelling, you should call 911 (or your local emergency number). This may be anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening.

Final Thoughts

Starting solids is one of many milestones that babies go through in their first year of life. While eating and trying new things can be a lot of fun, it's not uncommon to hit some bumps in the road along the way. Like most things in parenthood, a healthy dose of patience can be a big help in navigating this one.

As much as you might want your baby to master the art of fine dining, just keep in mind that sooner or later it's going to happen. Instead or trying to race through each milestone, try to enjoy each stage for what it is.

About the Author Ryan Howard

Ryan is a co-founder of SmartParentAdvice. When he isn't spending time with his wife, Cristin, or his two children, he can often be found running around on the tennis court.

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