Introducing your baby to solid foods is an exciting process. Seeing them discover their favourites tastes and pulling faces at the rest will make any parent’s heart go mush. However, introducing solids is also a topic that causes much anxiety for parents. One of the reasons is because of all the contradicting information they receive. Sometimes the advice offered just doesn’t seem to work for their baby.
Introducing solids to your baby – where to start
You should know that you are lying the foundation for their eating habits for the rest of their lives. Many short- and long term health problems are caused by diet.
How we view early childhood feeding has changed a lot since your granny and your own mom were introducing solids. Even paediatricians and clinic sisters are often not up-to-date. And their advice usually consist of an A4 page with a basic menu, half of which your baby doesn’t seem to like, and the other half often out-of-season.
When to introduce solid foods
The first point of confusion lies right at the start of the journey. The WHO still recommends exclusive milk feeding until 6 months. Some other guidelines and research support the introduction of solids (specifically allergenic foods, but more about that later) between 4-6 months.
Each baby is different, and it is important not to introduce solid food too early. The following signs may show that your baby is ready to start eating:
- She can keep her head completely upright and steady on her own
- She can sit upright in an infant feeding chair and therefore can swallow well – some experts even feel that baby must be able to sit independently
- She has lost the “extrusion reflex”, so instead of using her tongue to push food out of her mouth, she can move food to the back of her mouth for swallowing. If she is still ‘playing’ with the food and looks like she’s not sure of what to do with it, she is not yet ready!
- She must show interest in food by looking at or even reaching for food you are eating and must open her mouth for a spoonful.
If you start feeding your baby before all baby’s reflexes are ready for eating and swallowing, there is an increased risk of choking! You can also trigger gut problems like constipation, as well as food sensitivities. Few babies show all these signs at 4 months, and 5-6 months will be a safer bet. Remember that you can do more harm in starting too early than a little bit too late.
Should you start with cereal?
Though most mothers still do, cereal is no longer suggested as a starter food. Grains have got a higher chance of triggering problems like allergies and constipation. Rice cereal is the typical starter food, but it actually is a bland food that contains very little nutrients, and that which it has is added artificially. There is also concern over high levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in baby cereals. It would be best to start with fruits and veggies, and to actually skip rice and other boxed cereals completely. Rather give baby porridges closer to it’s natural form like homemade oats, maize and maltabella a little bit later in the process.
In fact, skip foods that comes in a box/sachet/pouch
As for grown-ups, it is far better to give baby real food that you prepare yourself. Preprepared foods have higher sugar content and often contain other additives. Foods that has stood on the shelve for a long time simply doesn’t have the same nutrient value as fresh food. Mostly it doesn’t even taste like the real thing.
There is specific concern over feeding babies from pouches. It disconnects baby from the food and from the visual stimulation of eating (seeing the food and the colours). Instead, this food flows from a packet. Because it just flows when they suck, they also tend to overfeed when feeding from a pouch.
The take-home message? Keep some bottled foods for emergencies or for when you are going out, but it should not be your baby’s main food option.
Yellow veggies only?
Gone are the days where you should start baby with yellow veggies and then stick to that for weeks on end. The new recommendations are that you introduce baby to as many new tastes as possible in the early weeks of feeding. You can give any vegetables and fruits, even things that are not traditionally seen as baby foods like beans, spinach and broccoli. You should try to add a new taste every 2-3 days.
Vegetables you can simply steam and puree. Apart from hard fruits like apple and pears there is no need to cook fruits before pureeing.
When to give your baby protein
For years it was taught that you should only give baby proteins after a year. But babies need iron, and animal proteins are the best source of this. Start adding small amounts of protein to baby’s vegetables from 6 months onwards.
Can I add spices or flavouring to baby food?
While babies around the world enjoy flavourful cuisine, western cultures feed babies plain, bland foods. There are many opinions and very little research on this topic. We know that breastfed babies are exposed to the tastes of the foods their mothers eat via their breastmilk. Adding some herbs and spices for culinary excitement will expand baby’s palate and make feeding time more enjoyable. So sprinkle some cinnamon over steamed apple, liven up mashed potato with some paprika and parsley and add mixed herbs to mince or lamb. Some little ones may even like mild spicy foods.
Sugar, salt and artificial flavourings are unhealthy and can lead to poor eating habits and long-term health problems such as obesity and diabetes. These should be avoided until at least one year.
What foods to avoid when starting solids
We used to recommend waiting with allergenic foods till baby was much older (up to two years). However, newer evidence has shown that giving small amounts of allergens early in the process when you start solid foods reduces the risk of allergies later. This is especially important for formula-fed babies as they are not exposed to allergenic foods via breastmilk and their mothers’ diets.
Reading this you will see that actually the possibilities are much greater for our children than it was for us when we were small. Enjoy exploring the wonderful world of food with your baby. Perhaps it is even time to add some new variety to the whole family’s diet.