Introducing solids to your baby’s diet is the start of a journey of discovery of a whole world of flavours and textures. By the time your baby is six months old, she will have doubled her birthweight, and will have tripled it at one year of age. This level of growth is never replicated again in her lifetime, and after six months introducing nutritious solid food will complement breastfeeding to support this rapid growth.
Here are some ideas to help you get started on this exciting new stage and to make it fun for you and baby.
Set Yourself Up For Success
Choose a day and time that suits you. Just like any other part of parenting, starting solids is a new skill and it will be most successful when you and baby are relaxed and not under pressure for time. Lunchtime can be a good time so that baby is well rested from a morning nap. About an hour after a milk feed can strike a good balance in that baby is not so full she won’t have an appetite for her new foods and not so hungry that she won’t show interest in the new foods as she will be preoccupied with trying to breastfeed. Take your time, take photos and enjoy the experience.
Start Low And Go Slow
At the beginning of introducing solids, baby is getting what she needs in terms of nutrition and hydration from breastmilk so your main focus is introducing new tastes and textures and exploring foods together. You only need to offer a small amount of food, about one teaspoonful is a good amount to start with. You can slowly increase the amount according to your baby’s cues.
A Family Affair
It is nice to involve the whole family in this new journey for your baby. She will love watching you and other family members, so involving baby in family mealtimes is a great way to do this. Put baby’s highchair at the dinner table and let her watch everyone eating and chat to her about the foods. When you are ready to offer the first solid foods, do so during a family mealtime, it will feel comfortable and familiar to her and help build her confidence to join in!
Keep It Simple
When it comes to first solid foods, the simpler the better. Offer foods like fruit and vegetables in their natural form, with minimal processing or extra ingredients. Some softer foods are ready to eat as they are, e.g. bananas or avocados, whereas some may need to be cooked first. Butternut squash can be roasted whole, then it is easy to scoop the flesh out and mash it for baby and the rest of the family. There are some links in the resources page which have good first foods ideas and more complex recipes, or you may have some of your own!
Don’t Worry About Mess
Mealtimes with baby are going to be messy, especially as she gets used to new textures. You will enjoy the experience more if you just go with it. You can make things less messy by dressing your baby in old clothes or a bib for mealtimes and laying a clean plastic oilcloth underneath baby’s highchair so you can safely re offer any dropped finger foods. If you follow mealtimes with messy play such as painting you can get extra mileage out of the old clothes.
Let Baby Explore
Introducing solids is a sensory experience for baby, she will love using her hands to explore the food. Let her hold, touch and taste the food, even if she ends up covered in it!
For the first year, your aim is to complement breastfeeding with solids, not to replace breastfeeds. Keep feeding on demand according to your baby’s cues, it will not interfere with solids. If baby is content and satisfied after a breastfeed she will be more open to trying new foods. Once you and baby have become established with solids you can adjust breastfeeds around them if you want or need to, e.g. if you are planning on going back to work.
Follow Your Baby’s Lead
You can feed solids responsively, just as you do with breastfeeding. If you are feeding with a spoon, wait for baby to open her mouth before you give it to her. She will show you when she wants more. If baby does not accept a new food at first, don’t be disheartened, try again another time. It can take a few tries before baby accepts a new flavour. Never force or rush your baby when feeding.
Offer A Wide Variety Of Foods
Baby will already be exposed to a wide variety of flavours in your breastmilk which takes on flavours from your diet, so chances are she already likes your cooking. She will enjoy trying a wide variety of foods right from the start and as she progresses through the stages of weaning, new textures will help her to develop the muscles she will use for speech. There is no evidence that after six months of age, delaying introduction of potential allergens will reduce the risk of baby developing an allergy. If you have concerns, discuss it with your doctor or midwife. Although baby will get all the fluids she needs through breastmilk, if you want to offer a drink you can offer small amounts of water in an open cup or non valved beaker at mealtimes from six months. Be mindful of bottled water as it may not be suitable for babies. Check with your nurse or midwife if you are not sure.
Avoid any potential choking hazards such as whole nuts or small pieces of hard foods such as carrots and never leave your baby unattended while feeding. Don’t forget to look after your baby’s little teeth too by brushing their gums and teeth after meals and before bed!
Starting solids is a special milestone for you, baby and the whole family. You are halfway through the first year of your baby’s life and you are doing an amazing job! Take time to be mindful during this special time for your family and enjoy having fun with your little one. Take lots of pictures, and don’t forget to include yourself in them, baby will love to look at them with you when she is older.