Introducing solids is an exciting milestone for your baby! It was only a few months ago that I began introducing solids to my daughter. And my head was swarming with questions. Is my baby ready for solids? What foods should I start with? Should I make my own baby food or buy store bought? How do I make my own baby food? What about baby-led weaning?
Breathe mama. You’re not alone. And I’m going to help you navigate through this time. Specifically, I am going to help teach you when and how to begin introducing solids to baby. Just as importantly, I’ll let you in on some secrets on how you can avoid creating issues with your baby’s sleep when introducing solids.
DEVELOPMENTAL READINESS Sign To Begin Introducing Solids
The American Academy of Pediatrics, The World Health Organization, and many other health organizations recommend introducing solids to baby around 6 months of age. For the first 6 months of life, babies can get all the nutrients and energy that they need from breastmilk or formula alone. Introducing solids before 6 months of age puts babies at a greater risk of developing gastrointestinal infections, lower respiratory tract infections, and ear infections. Before 6 months of age, your baby’s gut and kidneys are still developing. Introducing solids too soon can also cause diarrhea and constipation, which can really interfere with your baby’s sleep due to the discomfort they may be feeling.
Not all babies are ready to start eating solids right at the 6-month mark. Every baby develops at their own pace. Signs of readiness to look for include if your baby:
- Can sit up well without support
- Watches others eat and shows a keen interest
- Copies others when eating, mimicking the chewing action
- Can grab objects and put it in his/her mouth
- Sucks/chews on fists or other objects like toys
BEST FIRST FOODS When Introducing Solids
A 2016 study followed babies who had vegetables introduced as their first foods and found that they had a remarkably higher acceptance of vegetables later on in life than babies who started with other types of foods (Chambers et al. 2016). They concluded that familiarizing babies with a variety of vegetables, with a particular emphasis on bitter vegetables, from the beginning increases the likelihood that vegetables will be accepted throughout childhood.
One theory of why we are predisposed to liking sweet foods instead of bitter foods goes back to our hunter-gatherer days. Sweeter foods were important for survival because they are dense in calories. On the other hand, bitter flavors have a higher risk of being poisonous. So our bodies are naturally weary of these flavors. Leafy green vegetables are bitter and are some of the best foods to start your baby on to help develop long-lasting taste preferences. Examples include:
- Swiss chard
- Collard greens
Additional vegetables that are great options after introducing the leafy greens include:
- Butternut squash
- Green beans
- Sweet potatoes
MAKING YOUR OWN BABY FOOD AND THE IMPORTANCE OF TEXTURE
Commercial baby foods can certainly be convenient. But there are numerous benefits to making your own baby food. Most commercial baby foods are high in sugar and are pureed by industrial machines making them much smoother than any homemade version. Homemade foods usually taste a bit different from meal to meal, which is a good thing if you are trying to offer your baby a range of tastes and textures. A 2014 study found that healthy sounding vegetable purees contained on average 40% of their calories from sugar (Cogswell et al. 2014). Since babies are predisposed to liking sweeter foods, it is in the manufacturer’s best interest to make their foods sweet so that babies like them and parents therefore continue to buy them.
A study conducted in the UK found that babies who were exposed to a variety of textures early on (before 9 months of age) were less likely to be picky eaters later in life and accept different kinds of foods. They followed up with these babies 7 years later and found that those introduced to lumpy foods after 9 months of age ate less of the food groups and less fruits and vegetables than those introduced to lumpy foods between 6-9 months old (Northstone et al. 2001). Lumpy foods are also harder to chew which is good for mouth and tongue development, positively affecting speech. Babies prefer smooth pureed foods because they are easier to eat. But it is important to transition towards lumpier textures.
HOW DO I MAKE MY OWN BABY FOOD?
Having a fancy baby food maker is not necessary but can make things a bit easier. If you decide not to go with a baby food maker, then you can easily steam food in a pot on the stove and then transfer it to a blender to puree it. If you want to simplify the process and minimize dishes, then a baby food maker is a great option. Many can steam, blend, defrost and reheat all in one simple gadget in just 15 minutes. And they are easy to clean (bonus!). Regardless of which method you decide to go with, make sure to pour the leftover condensed water in while pureeing to add important nutrients back into the food.
WHAT ABOUT BABY-LED WEANING?
Baby-led weaning is just another way of describing self-feeding. Offer your baby pieces of food that they can feed themselves. The food should be roughly the size of an adult index finger. It should also be soft enough to bite through with gums but not so soft that it will fall apart in baby’s fist. Some good foods to start baby-led weaning are bananas, avocados, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, pears and apples.
Steam any hard foods. Try just giving baby a few pieces of food at a time. This way your baby won’t become overwhelmed by the amount.
There are several advantages to baby-led weaning:
- Babies are in control of how much they eat and learn to stop when they are full
- It encourages babies to chew different textures
- Babies become more accustomed to family foods
One disadvantage to baby-led weaning is that not all foods are suitable at first. So it is difficult to ensure variety and good nutrition. A combination of baby-led weaning and blended foods that are spoon fed is a great way to offer a wide variety of foods and textures and helps your baby to learn how to self-feed early on.
Keep in mind we’re still doing lots of milk during the day at this point as well. And we’re still including a nursing session or a bottle in the bedtime routine until your baby is about a year old. Be sure that your baby is wide awake for all those feed, including the bedtime feed! This will help your baby avoid snack and snoozing and help to teach your baby how to sleep through the night. If your baby is falling asleep at the breast or bottle, check out our blog on how to Break the Feeding to Sleep Association.
VARIETY IS KEY
The main takeaway is that variety is the key! By offering your baby a variety of flavors, types of foods and textures, you will help them develop healthy taste preferences and prevent them from becoming a picky eater. Babies learn to like foods by familiarization, and it can take up to 10 tries for a baby to accept a food. Even if food just touches a baby’s taste buds before they spit it out, this still counts as tasting the food. So, do not give up if your baby does not like a certain food at first!
SO YOU’RE READY TO START INTRODUCING SOLIDS?
Great! Have fun and make sure you have your camera ready to capture those hilarious expressions your baby will make. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you start:
- Introduce foods early in the day in case baby has a reaction or has gas. It’s better to have a bad nap as a result of the discomfort rather than having this interfere with your baby’s bedtime
- Introduce food about 1 hour after a milk feed as baby will be a little hungry but not overly hungry
- Choose a time when baby is happy and alert to introduce foods
- Feed baby in a relaxed and encouraging manner. Smile, keep eye contact and make yummy noises
- Don’t set guidelines on how much food to give. Allow baby to decide how much he or she wants to eat, which can vary by day
- Start with 1 food a day and then gradually increase to 3 foods a day around 9 months of age
- Signs baby has had enough: clamping mouth shut, turning head away, pushing food away, crying
WE’RE HERE TO HELP!
When we create a customized sleep plan for your baby at Live Love Sleep, we take a holistic approach and look at everything, including their nutrition. We help you build a daily routine, including a feeding plan, which is one of several important steps for helping your baby learn healthy sleep habits. We know that you only want the best for your baby. And we are passionate about helping babies live healthy lives!
If you would like to learn more about how a customized sleep plan can help your little one learn healthy, independent sleep skills, start by scheduling your complimentary Discovery Call today!
To healthy sleep,
Baby & Toddler Sleep Consultant
Chambers, L., Hetherington, M., Cooke, L., Coulthard, H., Fewtrell, M., Emmett, P., Lowdon, J., Blissett, J., Lanigan, J., Baseley, C. and Stanner, S. (2016), Research consensus on a ‘vegetables first’ approach to complementary feeding. Nutr Bull 41: 270-276. doi: 10.1111/nbu.12220.
Cogswell, M.E., Gunn, J.P., Yuan, K., Park, S., & Merritt, R. (2015). Sodium and sugar in complimentary infant and toddler foods sold in the United States. Pediatrics, peds-2014.
Northstone, K., Emmett, P., Nethersole, F., the ALSPAC Study Team (2001). The effect of age of introduction to lumpy solids on foods eaten and reported feeding difficulties at 6 and 15 months. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics VL – 14 IS – 1 PB – Blackwell Science Ltd SN – 1365-277X.