An Introduction to Solid Foods
By: Rachel Verdoliva, Registered Dietician
“When should I start solid foods?”
While it’s a seemingly simple question, parents can hear a wide variety of answers. Here is a short guide for introducing your baby to solid foods.
How do I know when my child is ready?
Around 6 months your child will develop the skills to be able to eat, swallow, and absorb pureed foods. This is based on research of how the gastrointestinal tract of infants develops and what’s best for their short term and long term health. Organizations who support this are: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the list goes on.
Health Benefits of Waiting to Start Foods Until Around 6 Months of Age
- Your baby will be physiologically able to swallow and chew pureed foods without the fear of choking.
- Your baby will be better protected from illness. The greatest immunity benefits come from exclusive breastfeeding. This is because exclusive breastfeeding promotes the development of “good” bacteria within the gut.
- Your babies gut will have the time it needs to mature. Your baby is building its digestive system as it grows. Before 6 months your babies gut is “open” and allows for the passing of pathogens and macromolecules directly into the bloodstream. This is beneficial when its just breast milk, but can be harmful when other foods and bacteria are introduced. Introducing foods early can also cause spit up, upset stomach, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
Signs to look for around 6 months
- Your baby can sit up well without support
- Your baby has interest in foods
- Your baby brings hands and toys to their mouth for exploration
- Your baby no longer has a protrusion reflex
Protrusion Reflex: also known as the tongue-thrust reflex, your babies innate choking reflex, is when your baby pushes the tongue out as anything comes into the mouth or pushes on the tongue
How to start foods (6-8 months)
- Small spoon and bowl (never put food in the bottle)
- Start small, 1-2 tablespoons at a time (the stomachs is only the size of an egg)
- Introduction of new foods every 1-2 days
- It’s recommended to start a variety of foods from 6 months on to reduce the risk of allergies.
- Acidic foods like, berries, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and some vegetables may cause a rash around the mouth or buttocks that goes away relatively quickly. This is a common irritation from the acidity.
- Texture to start should be pureed
- Gradual introduction to textures increases neck and swallowing strength from 6-8 months to reduce the risk of choking
- Gradually transition over two months from pureed -> mashed -> lumpy -> soft finger foods
- Foods to start are pureed meats, beans, vegetables, fruits, baby cereals, whole milk yogurt (click the link to visit my favorite handouts and books from Nutrition Matters for more quality information)
- If you are fully breastfeeding having cereal, meats, and beans are important because they are the only food sources your baby will have that include a quality source of iron.
- Most people start with cereal as a first food but the order of first foods doesn’t necessarily matter. I do usually recommend vegetables before fruits because your baby’s taste buds will be primed and ready for anything sweet.
Feeding From 8-12 Months
- Remember, breast milk and formula should still be the main source of nutrition until age 1 to support healthy brain and central nervous system development. Your baby should have 24-32 ounces a day or breastfeed every 4-5 hours.
- Your baby may still have pureed foods but soft, chopped up table foods with established mealtimes should now become the main routine.
- If you haven’t already, introduce the sippy cup and cup. I recommend 360 cups as they have a lip on the cup, which supports the strengthening of the cheek muscles needed to speak, and are better for your child’s teeth. They are also relatively spill proof, which is good for parents too!
- Introduce finger foods (crackers, bread, cereal, cooked pasta)
- No added honey – this food that may cause food borne illness in your baby
- Yogurt melts and infant puffs are non-essential foods. They are relatively new on the market and should not replace whole foods as they provide little nutritional benefit and no variety in texture.
- Skip the salt, juice, water, whole milk, cookies or goodies (they just aren’t needed at this age)
- Avoid hard foods or round foods that your child may choke on
Rachel Verdoliva works as a Registered Dietitian in Oswego County. She studied Biochemistry and Public Health at The College of Saint Rose and she received her Masters in Nutrition Science at Syracuse University. She currently works as a RD with young families and is the author of the blog, Nutrition2Kitchen.com .