While you are pregnant or you have a newborn, the idea that your baby will one day beholding and eating solid food feels hard. It's going to come around faster than you think, though, and so it pays to be prepared for when your baby has his first taste of food. It's one of the most fun milestones over their first two years of life, but it's also one of the messiest and one of the most confusing!
You can walk down any supermarket aisle and see baby food by the pouch or jar, but that doesn't mean that you will know the best food for your baby. The best thing you can do is start researching the best first foods, the best bibs, high chairs, and even the best plates and spoons for your baby.
Weaning your baby onto solid food is all about discovery for him: tastes, textures, smells - it's all very overwhelming for a little palate such as the one your baby has. They will not always eat when you think they should, they will make an absolute mess, and they will gag - it's part of the process.
In this article, we will talk about when can babies start eating food, what you should do to prepare for it and get you through all of the most important questions you will have.
Starting Solids: Common Questions Answered
When Can I Give My Baby Solid Food?
There is a lot of confusion surrounding when your baby can have baby food, and the best thing that any parent can do is look at the WHO guidelines on weaning to solids. Currently, the advice states that breastfeeding (or formula/supplementary) for the first six months of life is essential. After that, solid foods should be introduced to continue a balance in nutrition. You can check out the WHO guidelines here.
For the majority of healthy babies, solid food is not necessary before six months of age. There are clear signs that a child is ready for solid food, and being six months old is listed as one of them. There are instances where feeding earlier is recommended, but only a paediatrician is qualified to recommend it.
Some babies deal with reflux or failure to thrive issues, and it's these children that are recommended to eat solid food earlier than six months. However, the process here shouldn't be to ask a child health nurse or look at the feeding age on food.
Early weaning can cause issues later on in life, and while children don't show any issues right away, it's not until their late 20s that stomach and bowel issues related to early weaning are apparent. As we cannot see our children's stomachs to know that they are ready at 16-24 weeks, it's essential to stick to the guidelines and wait for six months of age before moving to solid food.
A paediatric dietician weighs the risk of weaning before six months with the immediate issue to thrive and makes the call based on whether the risks are worth it.
Some baby food companies add 4+ months on their packaging, but this is not the guide to go by. These age markings make it easy for parents who have been recommended by the right healthcare professional to know which foods are safest to start with.
Signs Your Baby Is Ready For Solids
Each baby grows at their own rate, and there are several signs that - when working together - show that your child is ready for solid food. You can start introducing food if your little one:
● Is six months old
● Can hold their head up and show reasonable control
● Can sit independently (not slumped in a baby seat!)
● Can hold toys and bring them to their mouth
● Has lost their tongue-thrust reflex
A child watching you eat or reaching for your food isn’t a sign that they should be eating solid food: it’s just a developmental sign that they are paying attention. For example, they may reach for the steering wheel of your car, but they’re not ready for L-Plates!
Before you start any solid food for your baby, talk to your doctor as they can talk you through things to look for. If you have concerns about your baby, their weight and their current milk intake, make an appointment to speak to a paediatric dietician, and they can recommend the best course of action.
Baby Led Weaning VS Traditional Weaning
There are two main types of weaning that parents choose for their child, but it doesn't mean that your child will agree on it.
This method of weaning is based on your baby and let them eat as they please. At six months old, you would add food to their highchair tray in finger-sized slices and let them explore and eat at their own rate. Most food at this age and with this method goes everywhere - as it should - and it's all about exploration and figuring it all out.
Allowing a baby to do this themselves can encourage them to feed themselves from an early age and touch and explore real textures compared to pureed food.
This method of weaning refers to controlling your baby's portions and food with pureed food. You puree their meal and use spoon-feeding to get them to eat. Plenty of parents choose this method over the baby-led weaning method, as they worry about the amount of food their baby is genuinely getting as well as gagging on food.
What If My Baby Chokes?
Babies will gag when they first try the food as it's a normal part of the process. However, understanding the differences between gagging and choking can make a massive difference to your anxiety as a parent. The standard rhyme is "If they're red, let them go ahead, if they're blue, they need help from you."
Babies gag as they learn to swallow correctly and a Paediatric First Aid course is an excellent way to feel confident that you would know what to do in any situation. Whichever method of weaning you choose, you may find that your baby is not yet interested in food - even when they meet all of the signs of weaning.
This is fine: they don't HAVE to move to solids at six months, so leave it a few weeks and offer again.
Which Foods Are The Best Baby Food To Try?
Many people choose baby rice or baby cereal to give to their baby as a first food, but it's not necessary. The benefit of rice cereals is often considered thicker than milk but not as thick as food, so a baby gets used to the texture.
However, baby rice has about as much nutritional value as wallpaper paste, so it's not something you necessarily need to introduce to your baby and their diet. You can go directly to fruit and vegetables!
There's no evidence to suggest that starting with sweeter fruits before veggies will mean that your baby doesn't like them, so go with whatever is most comfortable for you. If you choose to go with baby-led weaning, you can start giving your baby the same food you eat with a few exceptions. For a smooth journey for weaning to solids, consider the following tips:
● Starting with simple fruit and vegetables in finger-sized portions will allow for a variety of tastes.
● Let your baby take the lead - when they're done eating, they'll tell you!
● Never give your baby honey before 12 months of age. This includes cooked honey, as botulism is still a risk.
● Avoid whole nuts
● Get familiar with common allergens.
The Best Feeding Environment
For successful solid food weaning, you need to consider that the environment matters. Your baby should be sitting up now, so a good, safe place for your child to sit is a must. Starting solids will feel overwhelming, but there are only a handful of essentials you need to ensure that your feeding environment is a solid one. Some of the things you need for this to be successful include:
A Solid Highchair. You may be tempted to buy a soft-covered highchair or spend the cash on an expensive Tripp Trapp or Stokke number, but all you really need is a high chair that is safe and easy to clean. Covered or padded high chairs may seem like a great idea, but they can be a nightmare to get all of the food from the straps or the cover itself.
Bibs. A range of bibs is out there that babies can use, from plastic bibs with a lip to catch food, to soft bibs with a wipeable backing so that their clothes aren't soaked. More popular now are the bibs that look like a regular long-sleeved top. They work to protect clothing and the high chair.
A Floor Mat. A mess is inevitable for parents who are weaning their children, and while it's part of the process, not everyone wants to clean the floor over and over during the day. If you don't want to pay for a baby feeding floor mat, invest in a shower curtain and have that close by to catch the remnants of spaghetti bolognese as its launched onto the floor.
Plates & Bowls. At first, you might put baby food directly onto a highchair tray to avoid the inevitable plate-flipping that comes when a baby sees a plastic plate! However, it's not a bad idea to buy plates and bowls for your baby, and you can buy some plates that stick to the tray - no flipping necessary!
Baby Utensils. Not all children will use forks and spoons right away, but it's nice to have plastic or bamboo utensils in the drawer. You can introduce them at each meal, and eventually, your baby will pick them up to use them. Don't push the issue, though, as they will eventually get the hang of it.
Do I Need A Feeding Schedule?
As adults, we eat at certain times of day as dictated by society: breakfast, lunch, evening meal and then snacks. Babies usually like to eat to their own feeding needs, not the ones we dictate. So, if you sit down at noon for lunch and you offer food for your baby that they don't want, don't be disappointed.
Your baby will let you know they're hungry as they have done since birth. You don't have to start with three meals a day for your baby when you begin feeding solids, but you can consider solids at one meal a day and build up to it. It shouldn't be stressful to wean your baby to solids, and so go with what your baby wants to do.
There's no need to feel stressed out when your baby is weaning to solid food, and if you go slowly, you can quickly identify any food reactions, too.
Ideally, your baby should have their usual breastfeed or bottle-feed before their substantial meal. If you start with breakfast, give them their milk half an hour before offering any solid food and offering a small portion of solids. Milk is still the most essential form of nutrition - food before one is just for fun! As they get used to solid foods, introducing the next meal and then the next will happen gradually and naturally!
When you start weaning your baby to solid food, you should feel confident in their ability and your choice. The mess is a big part of weaning, and you have to embrace the mess. It takes time to master the skill of eating solid food, and you need to give your child that time to do it.
Exploring new food is exciting, and their tastes and textures will be epic before you know it. It's important to remember that your baby will have fun with their new discovery of food, so taking pictures is mandatory for this milestone.
Before you know it, your baby will be confidently feeding themselves with spoons, and you'll feel like they've become more independent from you. Research the topic well and choose which weaning method to go with and it won't be long until they're joining you at the dining table!