When should you introduce solid foods to your baby?
Solid foods used to be introduced really early on in a baby's life, and usually involved rice cereal. The advice given to parents of babies is based on scientific research, but it is just as important that parents follow their own intuition and watch their child. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting until the baby is ready. This is not, as your mom probably thinks, usually at four months of age. Most babies can slowly start eating solids once they are six months old. Here are the readiness signals you will want to watch out for:
- Your baby should be able to sit up, and hold his head up independently.
- Your baby should show an interest in food (but don't take this alone as the signal that he's ready for solids).
- Your baby should be able to grab small objects using the pincher grip.
- According to the AAP, most babies are ready for solids when they double their birth weight.
- The tongue thrust reflex that forces your baby to eject solids foods right from his mouth should have gone.
Research shows that early solids for babies lead to a higher chance of being obese by age three. The early introduction of solid foods may also contribute to food allergies, and the digestive system simply is not ready to deal with solids yet. Unfortunately, many people will still "bug" new parents about early solids frequently, especially people who received pediatric advice from a different generation (like, probably, your parents). Some pediatricians even belong to this category, so I am not suggesting you blindly follow your doctor's advice. Your own intuition matters, but listening to your doctor is likely to be much better than being pressured by relatives.
How to introduce solids
Introducing solid foods to a baby is best done slowly. Once your baby is showing all the readiness signs, you may want to check things over with your baby's pediatrician to get a green light (if that makes you feel better). There is an awful lot of choice when it comes to baby foods. You can go for pureed foods or chunks, and home-made or store-bought. Organic or regular. Ugh. You'll figure it out, and may have to experiment. Avoid the temptation to mix many vegetables or fruits in together, and remember there is no need to add seasoning quite yet. The baby food may look boring to you, but is really interesting to your baby. In the beginning, single-food meals are best, weather you decided on chunks ("baby-led weaning") or a puree.
Sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, avocado are good neutral things to start with. Apples and bananas are great sweet treats. After introducing these, you may like to add meat, fish, eggs and dairy products into your baby's diet as well. In our family, we decided to use the baby-led weaning method to introduce solids. You sit the baby in a high chair with food in front of them, and let them choose whether they want some and how much.
Eventually, it will happen. Your baby will see you eating, and will imitate you. Pureed foods can be self-fed as well, but that is a lot messier. If you spoon feed your baby, make sure to watch out for signs that she does not want any more, and just stop. Some babies will want milk after trying solid food. There is no need to move from milk-only to solids quickly, and no need to stop breastfeeding when you do. My kids' diet consisted of mainly breast milk until about age one, for instance solid food introduction is a process, rather than an act.
For advice on combining formula feeding with solids, you will have to consult your pediatrician. Don't be freaked out if you notice a change in your baby's bowel movements after you introduce solids. This change will be especially noticeable if you breastfeed. You'll get used to the less milky, more solids stools soon enough. Yep, I know this is pretty disgusting but you probably want to know about it in advance.