At the beginning of your breastfeeding journey and during those early weeks when you and baby are finding your rhythm with feeding, the day when your baby starts tasting solid food and joining in at mealtimes can seem like a lifetime away.
But as with all parts of parenthood, even when the days -and nights!- are long, the weeks and months are short, and although it feels like yesterday that you brought your precious newborn home from the hospital chances are you now have a chubby cheeked, smiling six month old who is ready for her own seat at the dinner table, well- almost!
Some parents find the idea of introducing solids daunting or worrying, particularly when the term weaning is used, as they worry that it may affect the breastfeeding relationship.
However the introduction of solids is complementary to breastfeeding and should enhance your relationship with baby rather than take away from it. You do not need to change anything about how you breastfeed baby while introducing solids, continue feeding responsively to your baby’s cues. Look positively on this next phase as a sign that your baby is growing and thriving and see the introduction of new tastes and textures as a fun activity you and your baby can do together, which will deepen your bond.
For the first six months of life, breastmilk meets all of baby’s needs for nutrition and hydration. After six months, solid foods can be introduced alongside breastfeeding, but breastmilk remains your baby’s most important and primary source of nutrition and hydration for the first year of life.
Follow Your Baby’s Cues
When the time comes to introduce solid food, you will be an expert in following your baby’s different cues. Responsive feeding is the cornerstone of the breastfeeding relationship. So you will be happy to know that baby will also display cues that she is getting ready to try solid foods. These cues are known as signs of readiness for solid foods, and if you notice multiple signs of readiness consistently at around six months of age, it is likely that your baby is getting ready to try out solid food. Baby’s digestive system is developing and maturing over the first six months of life and when it is mature enough to digest solid foods you may start to notice signs of readiness.
Signs of Readiness
All babies are unique individuals so they may not all show the same signs at the same ages, but these three signs, especially if occurring together are a good indication that baby is ready for solids. It would be very unusual to see these signs together before six months of age, at which point baby’s digestive system has matured and developed enough to be able to process new foods.
- Baby can sit up and stay in a sitting position unaided, holding her head steady. This is the most important sign of readiness as it will allow her to eat safely.
- She has sufficient hand eye co ordination to be able to notice food, pick it up and move it towards her mouth. You may notice this one when she makes a beeline for some of your lunch!
- She is able to swallow food. This one is a bit different in that you will only notice it after you begin to offer food but if you notice that baby is comfortably swallowing the food you offer, it is another sign of readiness.
As with any part of parenting, if you are not sure whether your baby is ready to start solids, or if you have concerns, speak to your doctor, nurse or midwife.
Things That Are NOT Signs Of Readiness
Your baby is a unique and complex individual who will exhibit different behaviours as she grows and develops. This can be confusing at times when you are keeping an eye out for signs of readiness. Here are some normal behaviours which are commonly mistaken for signs of readiness and some myths and facts relating to introducing solids.
- Waking at night, especially when baby has previously slept for long periods at night. It is normal for babies to wake at night, they may be teething, having a growth spurt or developmental leap or they may just want a cuddle with mum. Introducing solids will not make a baby sleep through the night, your baby will do this herself when she is ready.
- Chewing on hands or fists- this is a normal behaviour for your baby and not related to solid foods
- Baby needing more milk feeds from time to time. It is normal for babies, particularly breastfed babies, to need to feed more often than usual sometimes. It can happen when they go through a growth spurt or developmental leap, in warmer weather, when they are teething or if they are feeling stressed and need comfort. Most of the time responding to her cues and offering both breasts at each feed is all that is needed but if you are worried about your baby or think she may be unwell, always take her to see your doctor.
- Your baby’s gender or weight does not influence when she will be ready for solids. A common myth is that baby boys are hungrier than baby girls and will need solids earlier, or that babies who had a higher birthweight need solids sooner than those who had a lower birthweight. None of these are true. When it comes to solids, there is no difference between baby boys and girls. Babies come in all shapes and sizes and are all individuals. Your baby will show you when she is ready.
- A widespread myth about introducing solids is that you have to cut down on or stop breastfeeding while you do so. This is absolutely not the case unless you want to of course. For the first year of life, solids complement breastfeeding as baby’s main source of food, they do not replace breastmilk. So feed away as normal and enjoy exploring new tastes and textures with your little one!
If after all that you are ready to take the plunge and introduce some solids you can find more information in our article on getting started with solids and my favourite resources for introducing solids.