Introducing Solids to your Baby
Here is a little Q and A with the most recent evidence-based guidelines to get you started and to ensure baby is happy and healthy!
When is truly the best time to introduce solids to baby?
Around 6 months an infant shows true signs of readiness. At this time she is sitting up on her own, reaching out to grab things, and bringing items to her mouth. The best sign is when baby starts to bring food to her mouth all by herself. At 6 months, the immune system, digestive system and mouth are developed enough to tolerate solids and absorb the nutrients.
What are the best first foods for baby?
Start with nutrient-rich family foods, particularly from the Meat and Alternative group. These foods are rich in iron, zinc and protein to support healthy growth and development. Meat and Alternatives include cooked ground or minced beef, de-boned chicken, legumes (chick peas, kidney beans, and lentils)de-boned fish and whole cooked eggs. Iron-fortified infant cereals are also an acceptable first food, but not necessary. They don't provide the array of nutrients that whole meat and alternatives do. If starting out with infant cereal, be sure to introduce other meat and alternatives as well.
Along with meat alternatives, introduce a variety of vegetables and fruit such as carrots, sweet potato, squash, green beans, avocado, mango, bananas, peaches, etc. These are rich sources of vitamin C, beta carotene, and fibre important for your growing baby.
But aren't fish and eggs supposed to be delayed until 12 months old?
We once thought that introducing allergenic foods (such as egg whites, fish, wheat or peanuts) before 12 months would increase the infant's risk of developing an allergy. Research is now showing that there is no evidence to support that delaying these foods will prevent your child from having an allergy. If your child is at higher risk for developing a food allergy (ie. one immediate family member has a diagnosed allergy), continue to introduce those allergenic foods, watching for reaction. Early introduction may reduce their risk of developing food allergies altogether.
Introduce one new food every few days to watch for reaction to that food. If the baby is at risk of having food allergies, watch for redness or swelling of the skin; coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath; vomiting or diarrhea. Food reactions are rare.
Foods can be pureed or cooked until very soft but still formed (e.g. a whole carrot stick that is cooked soft enough you can press your thumb and finger through it easily). It is now acceptable to skip pureed foods altogether. Gagging is normal, and infants are less likley to cholk if they feed themselves at their own pace. Allow the infant to self feed as much as possible. You may help them, but be sure to respect their hunger and fullness cues. Refer to www.ellynsatterinstitute.org for more information on feeding dynamics and caregiver versus infant roles.
Start with a few teaspoons, twice a day. Try not to give too much food too quickly as this may lead to constipation. It is normal for your baby's intake to change from day to day, where she may eat a lot one day and hardly anything the next. Remember, their primary source of nutrition at 6 months is still breast milk or formula.
What about other beverages?
At 6 months, infants can be introduced to water from an open cup (moving away from sippy cups and bottles). Delay the introduction of fruit juice as long as possible. Fruit juice lacks fibre, infants can learn to prefer the sweet taste of juice, and juice can put the infant at risk for tooth decay. If juice is being introduced, only offer 100% pure unsweetened fruit juice, and no more than 4 ounces per day (1/2 cup).
Although plain yogurt and natural cheese can be introduced before 9 months of age, it is advised to delay fluid milk (including 3% cows and goats milk) until 9 to 12 months of age. Milk is low in iron and may distplace the intake of iron-rich foods such as meat and alternatives. Introducing milk before 9 months of age may also put baby at risk for gastrointestinal bleeding and blood loss in stool. Milk alternatives such as almond, rice, soy, etc. should be delayed until close to 24 months due to the inadequate fat content and overall nutritional inconsistencies from product to product.
If you're seeking further support on how to make your own baby foods, email to find out more about how Food To Fit can support your family and growing infant.