THERE IS NOTHING LIKE THE JOY of your baby reaching a new milestone. However, with all the information out there about what to expect, in addition to seeing other babies develop at different rates, it can be difficult for parents who may feel a desire to rush a milestone that they can actually control – like introducing food.
But, it’s important to remember that the rate of growth and development is neither a competition nor a gauge of intelligence and that there are reasons why things progress the way they do.
I have so enjoyed sharing my love of food with my son. The new level of independence and freedom have been wonderful. Although I knew that nursing him would continue, our relationship was changing. Going back to work didn’t even affect me as much- It’s odd I know!
But it is crucial to understand the importance of waiting until your baby is between 4 to 6 months of age. There are some risks involved in diving-in prematurely even if your infant may be showing all the right signs of readiness for food introduction:
- Sitting in highchair
- Holding up their head
- Interested in your food and your eating
- Ability to pick up food with their thumb and forefinger
- Reaching for food
Likewise, waiting too long to start food introduction can also pose some problems for your child.
Timing is Everything
Did you know that babies who start eating solid food too early are more likely to be overweight or obese in childhood and adulthood?
At an early age, breast milk and formula provide the perfect balance of calories and nutrients required for a baby’s optimal development. But it is interesting to note that where foods had been introduced early, a higher risk of obesity was found in babies who were previously fed formula than those fed exclusively breast milk.
Another reason to wait is that your young baby’s digestive tract is very immature. By waiting until it has fully developed, bacteria colonizes appropriately, which in turn reduces a lot of discomfort and food sensitivity development. Breast milk does provide healthy bacteria for your baby’s gut, but supplementing with probiotics can also help with healthy bacterial colonization of the gastrointestinal tract.
As far as late introduction of foods, the American Association of Pediatrics found that if you wait too long, the risk of allergic sensitization to food and inhalant allergens is increased.
Those found to be of most concern were eggs, oats and wheat as a food allergy and potatoes and fish as an inhalant allergen.
So, the big question then is, when is the best time to start solids? I feel that holding off until 6 months is ideal. I know some of you are looking anxiously at that number because you want to get started. I felt the same pressures to start solids with my very interested and hungry-looking son. But there is a lot to be said for patience and waiting for the appropriate time.
The current recommendation is between 4-6 months, with the research showing before this age as too early and after this window as too late. I think you can hold off to the ideal 6 months – let your baby be good and ready and allow them the time needed to develop fully. Of course, listen to their cues and signs of readiness, as ultimately, they are the boss and will let you know when they’re ready!
What Should You Introduce First?
You want to select foods that are the least allergenic and easily digestible. Contrary to popular belief I do not think that iron fortified grains (ie. rice cereals) are a great introductory food. It is advisable to begin with certain organic fruits and vegetables. The need for iron substantially increases at the 6 month mark therefore selecting foods that provide adequate iron is of utmost importance.
With growing concerns of food sensitivities you need to know how to introduce foods in such a way to ensure that they can be identified and avoided to prevent further discomfort for your baby. Continue to nurse or formula feed your baby during this process.
- 6-9 months– Root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and beets. Fruits such as pear, apple, avocado and banana.
- 9-12 months– oatmeal, quinoa, egg yolk, beans, pureed meats.
- 12 months and beyond– wheat, nut butters, whole egg, goat’s milk before dairy milk (structurally more similar to breast milk).
- DO NOT feed your baby honey, you must wait to over 12 months to introduce.
Six General Introduction Instructions:
- Select one food at a time every four days. This way you can observe your baby to see if there is a sensitivity and you do not have to question which food it was that is causing problems.
- Peel the skins as these are too fibrous and will be difficult for your baby to digest.
- Lightly steam your vegetables to soften and be sure to include the water used to make your puree.
- Make your purees very smooth for initial introduction. The consistency can become more thick and chunky as your child matures, preparing them for solid food.
- Feed your baby small meals 2-3 teaspoons 1-2 times per day for the first 6- 9 months and increase meal frequency and portion size as they grow.
- Add herbs and spices to your purees such as dill, parsley, basil, cinnamon and cumin. This develops a diverse palate, making them more open to different foods as they grow. I would add herbs and spices after you have completed individual fruit & veggie introduction. This way if your baby has an adverse reaction you will be able to identify which ingredient your baby is sensitive to.
What symptoms to look for indicating food sensitivities:
- Colic or crying
- Dark circles under eyes
- Skin: look for hives, rash, redness, puffiness or bloating
- Behavior changes
- Change in sleep habits
- Change in bowel movements- Constipation, diarrhea
Must-Have Food Introduction Appliances
As an ND and mom I wanted to ensure that food introduction was fun and positive, but also a healthy experience for my son. These are the things that I couldn’t live without during the food introduction process.
I found it tremendously rewarding to have made all my son’s food. I strongly encourage you to try this yourself. Not only can you have fun involving your baby in the process, but you also know exactly what is in your baby’s food. It is more economical and it makes going organic so much easier! Plus I do believe that food tastes better when its made with LOVE.
- Blender/ food processor: The Baby Bullet and KidCo food processor are both great. The limiting factor is that you can only blend a little bit each time, although I didn’t find this to be a problem for me. If you are lucky to have a Vitamix you will be able to make larger quantities of food (which is my preference) as it can handle whatever you put in it.
- Canning kit: This was essential for me as I like to make baby food in large quantities so that I am only doing it every three weeks to four weeks. Making larger batches is a good way to stock up and rotate your fruits and vegetables given their approximate six month shelf life. I had never canned before, but it was incredibly easy! I really like that I don’t have to be making baby food daily or even on a weekly basis.
- Food saver: The ability to vacuum seal my food was very helpful for a number of reasons. If you want to store larger quantities in your freezer this is a great way to do it while conserving space. Also, if you are traveling and wanting to bring your own food, vacuum sealing a few bags of food makes for an easy solution.
- Nuby: The Nuby product is so smart! It is a net at one end with a handle on the other. This way you can give them solid foods to nibble at and chew without worrying about them choking. I have put in semi-steamed carrots or chunks of fruit and let my little guy gnaw away on it. It can also be great for teething by putting frozen fruit or ice cubes in it to help freeze the gums.
- Probiotics: 3 billion CFU daily. Recent research is showing that daily intake of probiotics can reduce development of food allergies by 50%! Probiotics also support bowel health and provide relief for both constipation and diarrhea.
- Vitamin D: 400 IU per day. Plays an important role in the development of the immune system. Vitamin D does not pass through breast-milk so this is an ideal supplement for all babies.
- Prune juice: As you go through the list of new foods you may find that some are more constipating than others. A gentle way to help your baby is to have your house stocked with prune juice to give them as needed.
My personal tips
- Get your child involved in the process: let them feed themselves, hold the spoon, let them get dirty and allow them the time to required to feed themselves.
- Let them taste the foods as your prepare it: Sitting them in their highchair as you prepare the food helps them to see the process of making food. Letting them taste it throughout engages them in the process and helps them to establish a relationship with food from a very young age.
- Do not feed them when you are busy: sitting at the table enjoying the process will not only help them establish a healthy routine but also ensure proper digestion and reduce risk of adverse reactions
There are different methods and opinions about food introduction such as pureed baby food parental introduction as well as baby led weaning. The latter is allowing them to introduce foods as they grab for it.
Pureed fruits and vegetables allows them to be exposed to an array of different tastes colors and nutrient contents. However, allowing your baby to select foods that they are interested in and feed themselves helps to establish healthy eating habits and positive feelings towards the feeding experience.
It has been demonstrated that baby led weaning was more positively associated with healthy eating habits. Recent research discussing baby led weaning revealed that babies who are allowed to feed themselves have a preference of selecting carbohydrates such as cookies and crackers.
As much as I am in support of building autonomy and an empowered relationship towards food, I also want to ensure that my baby is exposed to all different types of foods and flavors. I think that having a preference toward bland foods or a limited food selection makes them more likely to be picky eaters in the future. So a healthy balance between the two types of food introduction is ideal.
Go into food introduction with an open mind. They may love it, hate it or simply might not be ready. Listen to their cues and respect what they are telling you. If they are not interested initially give it a week or so and try again. They will let you know when they are ready!