Introducing Solids Basics
Written by Brooke Bulloch, RD and Mom
(Note this information is for educational purposes and geared towards healthy, term infants. This is not meant to replace advice from your health care provider(s).)
Introducing solids can be such a fun time, but first time parents or caregivers often express concerns around choking, allergenic foods, texture advancement if starting on purees, and safety of the Baby Led Weaning approach. Below is a brief starting point, based on the most up-to-date evidence from Health Canada, Dietitians of Canada, The Canadian Paedeatric Society, the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada, and the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
When is the best time to introduce solids to baby?
It's recommended to introduce solids around 6 months of age, but not before 4 months of age. Around 6 months, an infant shows important physical signs of readiness, such as:
- Baby can sit upright in a lap or high chair and support their own head and neck;
- Baby can bring toys and food to their own mouth (you might start letting baby play with self feeding spoons!);
- Baby is eagerly watching you eat and reaching for food on your own plate;
- Baby can maneuver food from the front to the back of her mouth, demonstrating she can swallow appropriately. Another sign relating to swallow function is when baby loses her tongue thrust reflex/extrusion reflex.
What are the best first foods for baby?
Start with nutrient-rich family foods, particularly meat and alternative proteins such as:
- Cooked beef
- De-boned chicken; chicken liver
- De-boned fish
- Pulses like chick peas, kidney beans, and lentils
- Soybeans such as tofu
- Whole cooked eggs
These foods are rich in iron, zinc and protein to support healthy growth and development. Iron-fortified infant cereals are also an acceptable first food, but not necessary.
Along with iron-rich foods, introduce a variety of vegetables and fruit (in no particular order!) such as carrots, sweet potato, squash, green peas, avocado, mango, bananas, or peaches. Fruit and vegetables are rich sources of vitamin C, which helps baby's body to better absorb the iron found in plant foods. They are also good sources of beta carotene and fibre that are important for your growing baby.
When and how should you introduce allergenic foods? Are these dangerous for baby?
Food Allergy Canada identifies priority allergenic foods as:
- Tree nuts
Recent evidence shows that early introduction of allergenic foods (around 6 months of age), helps to reduce your child's risk of developing a food allergy, whether or not allergies run in the family. For infants at high risk for peanut allergy (ie. those infants with severe eczema or who have an existing egg allergy), you may wish to speak to your doctor or dietitian for guidance and support on how to proceed with allergenic foods.
How much should baby eat and what texture?
It is now acceptable to skip pureed foods altogether. Food can be offered in a variety of non-choking textures such as minced meat, mashed beans, lumpy sweet potatoes, or soft cooked hand held foods (e.g. well steamed carrot stick that you can easily press your thumb and finger through). A fork works great for mashing so there is no need for expensive blenders or processors. If you do start baby with mashed food, introduce lumpier and solid soft textures no later than 8-9 months. Texture is important for developing oral-pharyngeal muscles and increasing the infant's palate for a variety of foods.
Gagging is normal, and infants are less likley to choke 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 signals.
In the first few weeks, start slow and offer small portions - a few teaspoons of food, twice a day. Baby may have more than this, or less than this but he will let you know how much he wants. Baby's primary source of nutrition from 6-10 months continues to be breast milk or formula. Solid foods are considered complimentary to baby's milk during this time.
What about other beverages?
At 6 months, infants can be introduced to water from an open cup or straw cup. Delay the introduction of fruit juice. Fruit juice lacks fibre important for baby's digestive tract and bowel habits, and juice can put the infant at risk for tooth decay. If juice is being introduced, only offer 100% pure unsweetened fruit juice, limiting to 4 ounces per day (1/2 cup).
Although plain yogurt and natural cheese can be introduced around 6 months of age (see allergenic foods) it is advised to delay 3% cows or goats milk as a beverage until 9 to 12 months of age. Read this blog post for more on introducing Cows milk and plant based beverages.
Finally, never force food onto your baby and try to keep feedings positive and fun for everyone, for example, let baby play with food and use their hands - it's messy but so rewarding. Share stories with family and friends but don't compare or compete - every baby is different! Reach out to our team dietitian, Robyn if you have any questions!