Between 5 and 8 months, your baby will be ready for you introduce solid foods. Some parents find feeding really fun, and others find it to be a little stressful! Your pediatrician will help you determine when your baby is ready, but you can be on the lookout of these “signs of readiness for solids”:
- Sitting up independently
- Showing interest in foods and mealtime
- Imitating eating behaviors
- Decrease in drooling (more control of swallowing)
- Accepting food when presented
There are a few different schools of thought about introducing solids to babies. There truly is no “better” way- it all depends on your baby, your parenting style, and what works best with your family dynamic.
Baby Led Weaning refers to the practice of allowing babies to self-feed table foods rather than spoon feeding purees. You offer the baby whatever foods you are eating, and allow him to determine when he is ready and how much he likes to eat. Baby Led Weaning has a lot of great perks, especially in terms of convenience. No food processors or freezer trays. No purchasing jarred baby foods. Many proponents of BLW tout that this approach encourages finger dexterity, discourages picky eating, and helps develop oral motor skills. However, for some parents, offering whole foods to young babies can be nerve-wracking because of fears of choking. Other parents complain that mealtime messes get out of hand. And some parents feel that it is difficult to gauge exactly how much the child is ingesting.
In the USA, a more traditional approach is to introduce simple purees, such as rice cereal, around 5-6 months, and then systematically introduce different varieties of pureed fruits, veggies and legumes. Once the baby has mastered these, more textured purees will be introduced, and the baby will slowly work his way up to softer solids. The drawback to this approach is that babies can get very used to those silky smooth purees, and potentially become resistant to adding more texture.
Prior to having my daughter, I swore up and down that Baby Led Weaning was the way to go, but in the end, my daughter did best with a combination of BLW and some homemade purees. It also took her several weeks to really get interested in solids- which was very difficult for her feeding therapist mother! Right around 9 months, she took off and I was able to phase out the purees pretty quickly.
If you do want to give “Baby Led Weaning” a try, here is a fantastic list of tips from feeding expert, Sarah Remmer. She lists some great parameters to keep in mind as you are introducing solids:
“Your baby will gag- and that is ok!” As babies are learning to manage different textures of foods, it is likely that they will gag or spit food out. This does not mean that they aren’t ready! It may take a couple dozen exposures of a food before a child really masters eating it. Stay calm and avoid jumping in too quickly. It is also important to understand the difference between “gagging” and “choking”. Taking an infant CPR class is a great way to give you the knowledge and peace of mind you need to be more relaxed during feedings.
“Your baby can’t eat exactly the same thing as you.” Even though a big perk of BLW is the convenience factor, you do want to be mindful that baby’s little system is not developed enough to ingest the same levels of preservatives, salts and spices that adults might eat. Remmer suggests preparing food without seasoning and portioning out a small bit for baby prior to adding seasoning or sauces.
“The types of food matters- not just the texture.” The same nutritional guidelines apply to BLW that apply to a traditional puree approach. You want to offer your child a healthy variety of whole foods, with an emphasis on iron-rich proteins, vegetables, fruits and grains. Be wary of many prepackaged “baby” or “toddler” foods that contain a lot of highly refined and processed ingredients.
“It will be messy!” I can speak from my own experience- this is the truth! By putting your baby in the driver’s seat, you have to let her figure out how to use those little hands and fingers herself. Part of the experience is feeling and squishing and exploring the foods. Try not to clean up until the end, no matter how tempting it might be to wipe your baby’s hands and face between bites. Invest in a full-coverage bib, such as this one, or opt for a “topless meal” :).
“Teeny tiny pieces aren’t going to work.” Even though it is tempting to chop food up into tiny pieces, your baby likely does not have the fine-motor skills to pick up those little bits of food. Feeding experts recommend cutting food into pieces that are large enough for baby to grab onto, but soft enough to safely chew. Examples of appropriate portions include strips of buttered toast, a slice of peeled pear, a wedge of sweet potato, or a cooked carrot stick. Remmer reminds parents that it is normal for new eaters to miss their mouths, but as long as baby is able to pick up the food herself, it is likely the right size. Be sure to avoid foods that pose an increased choking risk like hard veggies, popcorn, whole grapes, hotdogs or globs of sticky spreads, such as peanut butter.
The most important thing is to let your baby have fun with food. You want to foster a healthy relationship with food that will last into adulthood. Stay tuned for upcoming posts about troubleshooting with picky eaters, tongue/lip tie, and kids with allergies!
-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP