When Starting Solid Foods for Infants, Easy Does It

Chow on 03.15.11
Contributor bio

Photo credit: Jenni Grover.

As a registered dietitian and unashamed food enthusiast,  I've been planning my baby's meals since even before I was pregnant.  And as much as I love breastfeeding our daughter Lilia, by the time she was getting close to 6 months, I was also itching to get to the solid food stage to see if she was as much of a gastronome as her father and I. 

Like most parents, I was also eager to start feeding my baby solid foods as a way to give us both a change of pace. Let's face it, no matter how enthusiastic a lactivist you are, 24-7 breast feeding is a tiring business. Here are some key things we learned about making the transition from breast or bottle to grown-up baby food.

Let Baby Be Your Guide

However keen you may be to try new foods, it's crucial to let your baby be your guide, and wait until she is ready. A baby should be able to sit independently and grab objects to put in her mouth. American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until the ages of 4-6 months for the introduction of solid foods, but you should also check out their useful guidelines for when your child is ready to try solid foods. From about 4 months on, our daughter would watch us intently as we ate, and even started mimicking eating movements. We thought she might be trying to tell us something....

Start Solid Foods Gradually

By 4-6 months, your baby's intestine has also had a chance to mature and, developmentally, she will be more willing and able to eat from a spoon. Remember, introducing solid foods should be a slow and gradual process. She'll only be able to digest very small amounts of food at first; so breast milk or formula should still be the main source of nutrition until around the age of 9 months - at which point solid foods become a larger part of the diet. Experts say you should continue to offer breast milk or formula until at least 12 months, at which the baby can have whole milk as well, or instead.

It's worth noting, however, that many families continue breast feeding for many months, or even years. Weaning is an entirely different topic, and very particular to each child, and each family, so I won't go into too much detail here. But in our case Lilia has been eating solid food for nearly a year now, yet she sure as heck still enjoys her breast milk too.

Introduce New Foods One At A Time

When Lilia ate her  first bite of sweet potatoes with a smile, we were watching anxiously to see if she would have any adverse reactions. When she didn't break out in hives , I was raring to spoon her up some peas, too. But I knew it was important to wait.

Most experts recommend waiting between 2 and 4 days between introductions of each new food. This method allows the baby to become accustomed to the taste and texture of the new food. It also allows you to become aware of any allergic reactions or food sensitivities that may occur. These reactions may include diarrhea, stomachaches, vomiting, excessive gas, skin rashes, or wheezing - The American Academy of Pediatrics again has a useful guide on how to spot food allergies in your children, and The American Dietetic Association also has great resources on dealing with food allergies for kids. (Allergies is a big topic that we'll be sure to revisit in a later post.)

Once the new food has been accepted by baby, and there are no signs of adverse reaction, you can (finally!) move onto the next new food. Remember though, your baby will refuse many new foods at first pass. Be patient. If your baby repeatedly refuses a particular food, don't stress - take a break from the food and try again in a couple of days.

Ultimately, it's crucial to remember that your baby is being bombarded by new sights, sounds, experiences and tastes everyday - and the same goes for her body. Having existed purely on milk - whether formula or breast - for her entire life so far, she is now being asked to run on an entirely different kind of fuel. Taking it slowly gives her the time to adjust, and it gives you the chance to watch your baby as she enters the world of solid foods. With milk remaining the main source of sustenance for many months to come, there is no need to rush anyway. Enjoy each new experience, try not to stress, and hey - if baby doesn't eat - maybe you get to try that pea puree yourself. (It can actually be surprisingly good!)

Top Stories on Feeding Your Baby
When it Comes to Feeding Fussy Eaters, Be a Collaborator, Not a Dictator : Parentables
6 Fail-Proof Techniques for Getting Your Baby or Toddler to Eat New Foods : Parentables
10 Guidelines for Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater : Parentables
Cheetos vs. Carrots: (Not) Fighting to Feed Kids Healthy Food : Parentables
Feeding Picky Eaters: What to Do When Baby Won't Eat : Parentables