What do I Need to Know?
By Sholeh Shahinfar MA, CCC-SLP, RYT
Introducing solid foods to your baby can be such an exciting moment in your parenting journey, while at the same time being one filled with uncertainty. There are so many approaches to starting solids and with no one way being the “right” way, you really have to find what feels best for you and your baby.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN MY BABY IS READY TO START SOLIDS?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies are typically ready to start trying solid foods around 6 months of age. As with all developmental milestones, there is no magic number to starting solids, some babies may start later than six months of age, while some may start earlier (although four months is typically the minimum age to starting solids).
As a general rule, the age at which your little one is able to sit up, with little-to-no support and has consistent and independent head control, is a good time to introduce solids as a supplement to breastfeeding and/or bottle feeding. Around this time, your baby is beginning to bring her hands, as well as objects and toys, close to her mouth.
Remember, eating isn’t as simple as it may seem. As a Speech Language Pathologist and Certified Oral Motor Therapist, I LOVE working on feeding and educating parents/families on how intricate of a process it is. In order to effectively and safely swallow, we must be able to coordinate our lips, jaw, and tongue to keep the food in our mouth and move it from the front of our mouth to the back and then safely swallow.
Create a safe environment that supports and encourages mealtime. Safety is always the number one priority! Safety includes: positioning of your little one, the utensils you use, and the quantity of food you give to your baby. Make sure your baby is secure in a high chair. Having your little one hold on to a spoon while you feed her can help the transition towards feeding herself down the road. It is important to be aware of how much your baby should be eating at different ages, while keeping track of how much breastmilk and/or formulate they should still be consuming as well.
- At 4-6 months: Nearly all your little one’s calories will still be coming from breastmilk and/or formula. At this age, solids are only a small portion of your baby’s caloric intake and should be used as a means to introduce solids. You can include up to four tablespoons of solid foods during 1-2 meals per day.
- At 6-9 months: Up until 9 months of age, most calories should still be coming from breastmilk and/or formula. At around 7 months of age, your baby may be ready to sit down for three small meals per day.
- At 9-12 months: Half of your baby’s calories will be coming from solid foods, and will only need to breastfeed for about 4-5 hours per day or consume 16-24 ounces of formulate throughout the day. At this age, your little one’s curiosity for food is flaring and they will be super interested in trying our mom and dad’s food.
- After 12 months: There are two milestones to celebrate here! Your baby has turned one and is getting most of her calories from solid foods!
HOW DO I INTRODUCE SOLID FOODS?
Your baby is going to naturally desire sweeter flavors to mimic breastmilk, but start off by giving your baby some healthy, low-sugar purees. I recommend starting with avocado, carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash, broccoli, and spinach. Then begin to add in fruits. When your baby is ready and again, when it is safe, gradually let your little one try out small portions of finger foods (ex: pasta or chopped up fruit). Try to include various tastes, such as savory, bitter, sour, etc. Keep in mind, you want to expose your little one to many different textures and tastes to expand their repertoire and palate.
It is always a good idea to introduce one new food at a time and wait a few days, or even a week, before trying something new. This helps rule out any allergies or reactions that may be caused by any new foods. Once you get a repertoire of 3-5 foods and are confident that your baby can tolerate them, begin mixing the purees together! If your baby rejects a specific vegetable or mixture that you have created, that is completely okay! Never force your little one to eat anything she has rejected, simply put it away and try again on a different day!
MAKE FOOD FUN-YOU GOT THIS!
Across cultures and generations, food has always had a fascinating way of growing a deep sense of community and connection. Personally, food is one of my absolute favorite ways to connect with family and friends and brings me so much joy, so make feeding fun for you and your little one. Three things I like to remind families are:
- Be flexible! There is no “right” way to introduce solids to your little one, in fact, it is a beautiful journey of exploration, creativity and discovery for you and your baby. Don’t set expectations high for yourself and your little one, be flexible and adapt to your little one’s needs and interests. If she doesn’t want to try a solid today, but she did yesterday, that is completely okay, just go with the flow!
- Make a mess! Yes, you read that right, MAKE A MESS! Encourage your little one to explore food. Smash it on the plate, swoosh it around on the table and just get messy. Get your little one involved in the entire feeding process. Have her watch you as you chop up the fruits, put them in the blender and model that it is okay to be messy! Encouraging your little one to explore food with her senses!
- Be consistent! Your baby may reject a food over 20 times before deciding she likes it, so just be patient and keep experimenting. Sometimes, even the smallest changes can cause your little one to reject a food they once loved (ex: change in utensil, change in consistency, etc.). I love to encourage parents to create rituals around mealtime and always keep it distraction free (no TV, no phones, no interruptions).
Starting solids for your baby is always a magical milestone met with lots of excitement and also lots of questions. The journey of solids creates yet another opportunity to form a deeper connection with your baby. Always remember, tune into YOUR baby to get a feel for when to start and what foods to start with.
Sholeh Shahinfar, MA, CCC-SLP, RYT
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