Introducing solids is an exciting time for your and your baby. There’s new tastes and textures to be explored (and thrown on the floor…). But it’s also a time that can be overwhelming and confusing, especially for first time parents.
Up to 12 months of age, the primary food for your baby is breastmilk or formula. Both breastmilk and formula provide your baby with all the nutrients they need during this time of huge growth and development.
Introducing solids is about introducing complementary foods - these are foods in addition to breast milk or formula. Breastmilk or formula should always be offered before solid foods up until 12 months.
In the first few months of introducing solids, the variety of foods you offer your baby is more important than how much they eat.
At around 6 months of age, your baby’s stores of iron and zinc start to deplete.
Iron is vital to brain development and your baby also needs iron to make haemoglobin which takes oxygen through the blood to all the cells in their body.
Zinc is an essential mineral that is required for the development of the nervous, immune and endocrine (hormone) systems and the gut.
These nutrients can’t be increased in breast milk, so it’s vital they are introduced at around 6 months. You can start to introduce a variety of iron and zinc rich foods to your baby as soon as you start them on solids.
Always offer breast milk or formula first. I recommend offering your baby their food in the morning, after their breakfast or mid-morning feed. By offering at this time of day, you are more likely to see if they have any reactions to the foods.
Start with offering a small amount of food at a time and gradually increase, following your baby’s cues. This might mean that your baby only eats a small spoonful or two of food each day until they’re ready for more. If your baby wants more, then increase the amount of solids you are offering them.
Offer a wide range of tastes and textures. In the very beginning, this could be pureed vegetables or meat, or you may want to start with finger foods straight away - there is no “right” way to do this.
Offering soft finger foods will encourage self-feeding, which helps with oral motor development. It also allows babies to be in control of how much and at what pace they eat, which will help with self-regulation of food intake later on.
Don’t be afraid to offer your baby a variety of different tastes. Baby food companies would have us believe that babies need to start solids on bland rice cereals, but this just isn’t true!
It’s important that your baby is introduced to a wide variety of flavours by the time they’re about 9-10 months old. Not only will this increase the variety of nutrients they are getting from their food, but it will also increases the chances of them accepting a wider variety of foods as you go on.
This can be as simple as adding some chopped herbs to mashed veggies or some cumin to roasted carrot sticks. Avoid adding sugar or salt to your baby’s food - they don’t need these and they can be detrimental to their health.
As parents, it’s our job to offer them a variety of foods, it’s theirs to decide how much and how often they eat. Babies are born with an internal hunger gauge that tells them when they're hungry and when they're full. When we try to control how much they eat, we interfere with this natural ability.
Your baby’s tummy is tiny - by around 6 months of age, it’s still only a little bigger than a large egg! When they’ve had enough, they’ll typically turn their head, or push food away.
Changes in your baby's appetite are nothing to worry about and completely normal. Just make sure to be patient and keep at it. Don't ditch a new food if your baby spits it out, especially if it’s a healthy option. Babies may need to try a food a few times before accepting it, so offer it again a few days later.
Babies vary widely when it comes to hitting milestones like sitting up, crawling, eating and talking, which makes the comparison trap a particularly easy one to fall into.
Try not to compare how much or what your baby eats to others. Babies are all very different and grow and develop at different rates.
And always remember, you know your baby better than anyone else. If you are concerned about your baby’s growth, please see your child health nurse or GP.
If you would like step-by-step guidance and support from me you may be interested in my "Get it Right From Their First Bite" program for introducing solids. Check it out here.
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