Starting Solids in a Positive Way
By Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDE, CEDRD, CDN
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If you ask a hundred pediatricians or dietitians how to start feeding your baby, I can almost guarantee you’d get a hundred different responses. Some professionals believe in baby purees, while others believe in baby-led weaning. Some professionals say start with rice cereal, others say avocado or even sweet potato. Even when to start feeding your baby solid foods is debatable (although most people would agree between 4–6 months). I felt confused as a new mom—and I’m a dietitian!!
I got the go-ahead to start feeding from my pediatrician at my son’s four-month checkup, and we started a week later. I knew with my mom’s intuition that it really didn’t matter what food we started with—we would eventually figure out a good plan. However, I really wanted to start off with feeding in a positive way, knowing that these were amazing habits to keep for the whole family. I’m definitely not perfect, but here are some guidelines I’m attempting to follow:
1. Just like breastfeeding or bottle feeding, I’m trying to learn his hunger and fullness cues when it comes to solids. I remind myself that when he gets annoyed and doesn’t open his mouth, he’s full and the meal is over (even if there is a lot of food left).
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2. I’m doing my best to limit distractions like having the TV on in the background or toys nearby. Just like adults, children get distracted by their surroundings.
3. I’m usually eating with my baby during a feeding. When he sees me eat, he tries to grab what I’m eating. It’s never too early to start sharing meals together, even if (for now) we’re eating different foods.
4. I’m dedicated to spreading positive messages about food, including what I say about my own food choices and my own body in front of my child. My five-month-old may not understand this, but other people I’m with everyday certainly do. I want my son to grow up learning about health in a way that makes him feel good about his choices and confident about his body. It’s never too early to make this a priority.
This blog is for all the new mommies and daddies out there. My good friend is about to transition her baby twins to solid foods and asked for my advice. So, here is the latest dish on feeding babies their first foods.
Well, I remember the excitement as well as the apprehension I felt when starting my little boys on solid foods. I still have their food diaries, as thick as a novel sitting on my bookshelf. While I was old fashioned, meaning I only gave my boys bitter or less sweet veggies for the first few feedings (of course this was after rice cereal), no longer is it standard to feed veggies first. Research shows that there is no correlation between fruits or veggies, sweet or bitter, with picky palates or anything else we may be concerned about. So, follow MDIO’s Easy Peas-y Six First Foods Tips.
- First, I read Child Of Mine–well part of it–by Ellyn Satter. I also recommend this book to all my clients getting ready to give birth. Actually, I think it makes an amazing baby shower gift. So if you haven’t read it, download it or borrow it from your local library.
- Next, take a stroll through the baby food aisle at your local grocery store. You will note, that there are now organic jarred baby foods, frozen baby foods, purees in a handheld squeezable form and everything else under the sun, literally!! They all read nutritionist approved, earth friendly, and healthy. Write down some of the brand names, flavors and maybe even purchase one or two jars and frozen purees. Give them a quick taste test for a point of reference. Start asking your friends what they like, what their kids liked and what was easiest. You may opt for homemade, jarred, and/or frozen depending on where you are feeding the baby (or babies if you have twins).
- Of course, you’ll want to make eating and feeding enjoyable for you and your little one early on. Mom Dishes It Out’s feeding expert and speech therapist, Robin Goldberg, shares the Top Ten Tips for Pre-Feeding Warm Ups. Before introducing food to your bundle of joy, read her wisdom. And then when the day finally comes, have fun! Get your rubber baby spoons and sit with baby in a calm place. Remember, like Robin says “The goal is to establish positive experiences with eating from an early age!” *Note: KidsHealth.org shares this quick guide on their website.
Is My Baby Ready to Eat Solids?
How can you tell if your baby is ready for solids? Here are a few hints:Is your baby’s tongue-thrust reflex gone or diminished?
This reflex, which prevents infants from choking on foreign objects, also causes them to push food out of their mouths.
Can your baby support his or her own head?
To eat solid food, an infant needs good head and neck control and should be able to sit up.
Is your baby interested in food?
A 6-month-old baby who stares and grabs at your food at dinnertime is clearly ready for some variety in the food department.
- Then determine with your doctor, registered dietitian or perhaps your intuition whether to start feeding solids at 4 months, 5 months or 6 months.The latest of this ever-changing recommendation is to solely feed your baby breast milk for the first 6 months based on the World Health Organization. However, this recommendation is not universally accepted. In countries, like the USA where the infant’s energy expenditure/output is likely greater, many children are formula fed, and solid foods are more readily available than in a third world country, it remains to be determined if it is appropriate to wait until 6 months1.The American Academy of Pediatrics says “Generally, when infants double their birth weight (typically at about 4 months) and weigh about 13 pounds or more, they may be ready for solid foods2.” Yet the AAP goes on to recommend “breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for about 6 months.” Parents, talk with your doctor, your personal registered dietitian and assess your baby. I know my mom started me on solids at 4 months and I too started my boys between 4 and 5 months. Please know the current recommendation for 6 months has nothing to do with food allergies. It was established years ago that earlier age of introduction does not have a causal affect on food allergies in babies and children (see Is It OK to Eat Peanut and Soy Products While Pregnant)
- Refer to this quick Bottom-line of Feeding Baby:
Birth to 6 Months: Babies get the nutrients they need from breast milk and formula during the first six months. You should NOT give your baby cow’s milk until after age 1.By 4 to 6 Months: While most babies are ready to eat solid foods now, they will continue to get most of their calories, protein, vitamins and minerals from breast milk or infant formula. Introduce iron-fortified infant or pureed meats to help replenish iron reserves, while continuing breastfeeding and or formula feeding.By 6 to 8 Months: This is an appropriate time to begin pureed or mashed fruits and vegetables. Introduce one new food at a time giving 3 day windows between each new type of food. Be cautious and observe for signs of allergic reactions. The three to five day window helps you to be sure which food your child may have an intolerance too. Look for rashes, vomiting, breathing difficulties, and or mood swings.By 7 to 10 Months: Think Finger foods. Babies are usually ready to start feeding themselves dry cereals like Cheerios or teething biscuits. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states, “[Babies] can begin to use a cup for water.” If they are not ready for the cup, or perhaps you are not ready, start to introduce the sippy cups with straws.By 8 to 12 Months: At this stage, most babies are ready for soft or cooked table foods. Think about having baby eat at some of the same times as the rest of the family. Family member role modeling and making food times pleasurable will help to create an overall positive food experience, which is the ultimate goal.From 1 to 2 Years: Babies continue developing eating skills. They feed themselves and enjoy the same foods as the rest of the family. Choking on firm, round foods is a risk, so cut these foods into smaller, ¼-inch squares. Adapted from Eat Right.
- Adhere to Baby Beware: What not to give Baby.Cows milk until after age 1 – before this they need breast milk or formula. Yogurt, pasteurized cheese and cooked eggs are okay as long as breast milk and or formula are the main form of liquid nutrition.Avoid potential choking hazards like nuts, seeds, popcorn, whole grapes, candy, gummy candy, anything with pits or have a round shape.. like cherry tomatoes or whole grapes.Avoid candy and sometimes foods. Babies need to focus on fuel for growth. Babies, need not have cupcakes. We just get enjoyment watching them get their first taste of pure sugar!
Let us know if this helps you or what has helped you at this precious and impressionable time. Remember it is of utmost importance to create a positive experience with eating and a neutral relationship with foods (Healthy Habits, 2013).
- Fewtrell MS, Morgan JB, Duggan C, et al. Optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding: what is the evidence to support current recommendations? Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:Suppl:635S-638S
- Hansen-Petrik, Melissa. “Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 44.2 (2012): 194-e3.