Starting solid foods is an exciting journey. It is important to make sure that you adapt your approach to keep up with baby’s changing needs. Below some guidelines on how you should adapt the food your baby eats to his age and developmental stage.
A word of caution before you read further
Remember that there are little ones with special needs when it comes to feeding, so speak to your doctor if your baby:
- Was born prematurely
- Has any medical conditions or disabilities
- Has severe eczema or any diagnosed allergies
When to start – getting the timing right?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) still recommends exclusive milk feeding until 6 months. However, there are some other guidelines that suggest starting solids a bit earlier, with the purpose of introducing baby to allergenic foods sooner rather than later and preventing allergies in the longer run. No guideline support starting solid foods before the age of 4 months (17 weeks), or after the age of 6 months (26 weeks).
ALSO READ: How To Introduce Baby-led Weaning
Each baby is different, and instead of just looking at age you should be looking for the signs that baby may be ready to start eating:
- Baby must be at least 17 weeks old
- He should have good head and neck control; some doctors even recommend waiting until he can sit independently. This is important for effective swallowing.
- He must open his mouth and move forward when you offer food on a spoon.
- He must be able to move food to the back of the mouth and to effectively swallow. If he is still ‘playing’ with the food or spitting most of it out, he may not be able to swallow food yet (which is different from swallowing milk), and may choke.
The role of milk as baby grows older
Breastmilk is worth gold to your baby and if possible you should aim to breastfeed your baby until two years as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). As a baby grows older, their appetite for solid foods increases and they need less milk. If you are breastfeeding your body takes care of toning down production automatically.
If you are formula feeding, you may need to gradually reduce the amount of formula baby is having as he grows older:
- Younger than 9 months – no limit on milk intake, simply feed baby on demand
- 9-12 months – gradually reduce to about 750 ml in 24 hours
- 12-18 months – gradually reduce to about 400-600 ml in 24 hours
- 18-24 months – gradually reduce to about 250-350 ml in 24 hours
After one year you can stop giving a baby formula and move to normal cow’s milk. There is no need for a specific growing-up formula after 1 year of age. In fact, these are often higher in sugar content and may contribute to obesity later in life.
What about water?
From 6 months onwards you can offer baby sips of water from a sippy cup or a straw. Aim for 125-250ml of water a day.
When to introduce what foods
You will get different opinions on this topic, but most experts agree that babies can eat a big variety of foods from the start. We suggest the following:
- Whenever you decide to start, for the first month of feeding, stick to vegetables. You can then add fruits in the second month, this as fruits are sweeter and we want baby to first get accustomed to the taste of veggies. Fruits and veggies are the foods least likely to cause allergies and irritations, and are therefore the best choice for getting baby accustomed to eating. You can introduce baby to any veggies and fruits. Aim to introduce a new taste every 2-3 days.
- Once your baby is accustomed to fruits and veggies you can introduce porridge like oats, maize or maltabella.
- From around 6 months you should start adding in protein like beef, lamb, ostrich, chicken and fish as baby needs to get iron from these foods.
- From around 9 months you can start adding more complex starches like pasta, couscous and rice, as well as dairy products like cheese and yoghurt.
- By 12 months baby can eat the same food that the rest of the family is eating.
- 4-6 months – very thin, watery purees. You should puree all food and can add some water to thin it if necessary
- 6-8 months – food should still be pureed, but can become thicker as baby masters moving food around in the mouth and swallowing.
- 8-10 months – food should no longer be pureed; you can simply squish it with a fork, or cut it in very small pieces. You will also in this time start adding food with inherent texture like rice. This will take some getting used to. Allow baby to touch and play with the food, and to self-serve, as they often cope more easily with textures if they had this tactile preparation (instead of mom just shoving something strange into their mouths).
- 10-12 months – gradually increase texture until baby is eating finger foods at 12 months that he can put in his own mouth.
- Remember that babies can chew surprisingly well with their gums, and you can increase texture even if baby hasn’t got many teeth yet.
You should not add any salt, sugar or artificial spices to baby’s food before 1 year. However, from around 8 months (or once baby has been introduced to most foods in their natural state) you can add natural herbs and spices as these are also tastes that baby should get accustomed to. Get adventurous with combinations!
Foods to avoid
- In children under one years, avoid honey.
- Children under two years should receive full cream dairy products, not low fat or fat free.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners, even natural alternatives like Stevia. This as the effects of these are not well researched in children.
- Avoid sugar – flavoured milks, sweets, soft drinks. These lead to tooth decay and contributes to childhood obesity later on.
- Avoid fruit juice – it contains little fibre and few nutrients, and are packed with sugar.
- At any age – 2-minute noodles, as it contains many additives and almost no nutrients; many children grow addicted to the taste and end up wanting to eat little else.