Starting Solids 101
Updated: Mar 23
Starting solids can be a really fun but overwhelming milestone-I've been there so I know exactly how you're feeling right now! If you're wondering whether or not your babe is ready to start eating solid foods yet then this is the post for you!
Current recommendations are that babies should not be introduced to complimentary solid foods until they are at least 6 months of age. This is generally around the time that their tummies start to develop the special enzymes that can help them break down solid foods. It is important to keep in mind that every babe is different. You don't want to start offering solid foods prior to this time frame because typically before 6 months babes are not developmentally ready to handle solids. That aside, there's no real benefit in starting early and it may yield more risk than reward.
Because every babe is different, there are a few key signs of readiness that you want to look for that will tell you babe is ready for foods other than breastmilk of formula. Being able to clearly recognize these signs will help you prevent baby from choking or aspiration.
Four Signs of Readiness:
1. Baby can sit up alone or with minimal support.
2. Baby has good head and neck control.
3. Baby shows interest in food. He may express this by either opening his mouth when food is offered or reaching for food when it's nearby.
4. Baby no longer has the tongue thrust reflex, is able to move food to the back of his mouth, and swallow safely.
Traditional Purées vs. Baby Led Weaning:
If your baby is showing these signs of readiness and is at least 6 months of age then the time has come to start introducing solid foods in addition to breast milk or formula. How exciting! The next question you might have is “where do I start?”
The truth is that there is no right answer to this question. Traditional recommendations are to start with spoon-fed puréed foods but recent research has shown the benefits of baby led weaning (BLW). Baby led weaning is the practice of skipping traditional purées and instead offering age-appropriate whole finger foods at the age of 6 months. This allows the baby to feed himself at his own pace as he starts the journey of exploring solid foods.
Giving baby whole foods sounds scary-I know! But studies support that BLW babes have no greater risk of choking than spoon-fed babes. BLW is a great way to introduce baby to a variety of foods and textures and may lend to an increased acceptance of new foods later in life.⠀
More on Baby Led Weaning:
Baby led weaning has been shown to:
Promote early self-feeding
Aid in fine motor skill development: Gripping foods with the palm (the "palmar grasp") allows baby to develop dexterity
Help with the development of hand-eye coordination: Practice bringing utensils from plate to mouth allows littles to work on task-oriented coordination
Promote healthy eating habits: This is a big one! Self-fed babies learn to recognize their hunger and fullness cues since they determine what and how much to eat versus a spoon-fed baby where the amount of food consumed is often controlled by the parent
There is no greater risk of choking in babies fed soft whole finger foods versus puréed foods
The research on BLW is still pretty limited though there is growing evidence to support the benefits.⠀
That said, there is no right way to feed your baby! You have to choose what works for you and more importantly, what works for baby! As long as the food you are giving to babe is appropriate and safe for their developmental age then you can feel free to start with a food that you feel comfortable with.
These days, purées get a bad rap but they can be a really convenient and cost effective form of feeding. While BLW may be right for some families, the practice is not for everyone. While it may be an #unpopularopinion, you CAN both offer purées and do BLW.
Is Food Before 1 Really Just For Fun?
As much as people say food before 1 is just for fun, that statement isn't entirely true. Food before 1 serves as the foundation for your child's feeding journey as well as their relationship with food. It allows them:
The opportunity to develop their oral dexterity and the ability to chew and swallow
A chance to experience and process different textures
Exposure to varied flavors that will help their developing palettes
Key Nutrients of Focus When Starting Solids:
Regardless of the approach that you choose, it is important to make sure you are offering your baby a variety of nutrient-dense foods from all food groups. This means fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains, and dairy. Your baby’s first foods should also be high in zinc and iron. These minerals can be found in fortified baby cereal, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, and spinach. Additionally it is important to ensure that baby’s diet includes healthy fats like omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids found in seafood, nuts, seeds, and oils. These fats are crucial for the fast developing brain of your baby.
Offering fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C, A, and potassium are also of particular importance for babies and toddlers from 6-23 months.
Vitamin A food sources: pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, and spinach
Vitamin C food sources: oranges, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts and mangoes
Potassium food sources: potato, lima beans, squash, sweet potato, pinto beans, and bananas
Just How Much Should Baby Be Eating?:
Now that we've discussed what babe should be eating, let's touch a bit on exactly how much babe should be eating. There are general guidelines and recommendations by age, however, what is most important is for you, as a parent, to tap into your child's hunger and fullness cues and allow them to lead their weaning journey.
Number of Meals Per Day By Age:
6 months: 1 solid feeding/day + breastmilk or formula
6-8 months: 2 solid feedings/day + 32-36 oz breastmilk or formula
10 months: 3 solid feedings/day + 24-32 oz breastmilk or formula
12 months: 3 solid feedings/day + 2 snacks and 16-24 oz breastmilk or formula
The Balanced Plate For Infants:
The balanced plate is something I talk about a lot in practice. For infants, the balanced plate will look a bit different than it would for toddlers or adults because babies won't be getting 100% of their nutrient needs met through solid foods alone, since they will also be receiving a significant amount of nutrients from breastmilk or formula.
The infant balanced plate should consist of an iron rich food (especially if they are breas