Look anywhere on the internet, and you will find a thousand different opinions on the best approach to feeding your child, the best foods to start with, and the “right” time to start solids. The bottom line is that you will ultimately decide based on you, your child, and your family’s needs. But it’s always good to have all the facts. In this article, I’ll dive deep into when to start solids, how to start, and red flags to look out for to help you make the most informed decisions.
Answers to Common Questions When Babies Start Solids
1. When do you know your child is ready to start solids?
Depending on who you ask, you will get many different answers to this question. From a developmental standpoint, if your child can sit independently, they are ready for solid foods. When a child can sit, they can reach their arms forward to grab objects to bring to their mouth. This is essential when learning to eat. They will also have the appropriate head control required to move their tongue around to explore new foods. You’ll also want to ensure your baby shows interest by reaching toward your food and/or looking toward your mouth to ensure that mealtime is a positive experience.
2. What’s the difference between baby-led weaning (BLW) and puree feeding?
Another hot debate in the feeding world is whether to do baby-led weaning (BLW) or puree feeding when starting solids. I like a combination of the two. Baby-lead weaning provides foods in their natural form for children to explore, pick up, and bring to their mouths to eventually eat. (I say “eventually” because this is a process in which the immediate result is rarely nutritive, but rather an experience with food). Many BLW enthusiasts aim to get through the first 100 foods by the child’s first birthday. Also, to ensure that your child is exposed to various flavors and textures.
Purée feeding is done using store-bought baby food or homemade purees. These foods are presented by a spoon to introduce new flavors while gradually increasing textures. In general, puree feeding begins with single-flavored smooth textures, then advances to flavor combinations of the same texture, followed by thicker and chunkier consistencies.
3. What are the best foods to start with?
Every family has its own dietary preferences, so no one food is best. That said, some foods are popular first foods due to their taste, texture, and ease of preparation. These foods include items that mash easily, such as avocados, bananas, and sweet potatoes. Because the flavor of these foods is sweet but not too sweet, they are a great way to introduce your child to new tastes, whether doing baby-led weaning or purée feeding. Remember your “end goal” or what your family eats regularly when choosing foods.
4. How do I introduce meat?
Many people get nervous about introducing meat. It may seem counter-intuitive, but when first giving your child meat using a BLW approach, the bigger, the better. This means that the meat should be about two fingers thick for babies just starting, which means it is big enough for your baby to pick up and hold but too big to choke on. Babies can experiment with meat any time after 6 months of age.
5. Should my baby be using a spoon?
Spoon feeding is an excellent way for babies to develop fine motor skills and strengthen oral motor control. The trick is using the correct spoon and in the right way. When spoon-feeding, giving your child their own spoon, such as the Grabease or ezpz spoon, is best. They can practice bringing the utensil to their mouth. You may also decide to deliver food to your child using the spoon. When doing so, make sure to fill the spoon bowl halfway. Wait for your child to close their lips around the spoon before pulling it back to ensure they are using the muscles in their lips to strip the spoon.
6. Is it normal for my child to gag?
Gagging is a normal part of learning to eat. As a parent, knowing the difference between choking and gagging is helpful. Taking an infant CPR class before beginning your solid journey is highly advisable. Simply put, when a child is choking, they turn blue in the face and do not make any sound. A child who is gagging is red in the face and making audible sounds. When a child is gagging, it is important not to react in a way that scares your child.
7. How do I know if my child is having an allergic reaction?
It is always possible that your child may have an allergic reaction to a new food, so it is important to introduce only one new food at a time to monitor any potential reactions. The most common allergic reactions in babies are hives, rashes, and vomiting. Some milder symptoms could include swelling of the eyes, lips, or face. Allergic reactions occur within seconds up to minutes or hours later. Most reactions will occur within 2 hours of introducing the new food. No matter the reaction, you should immediately contact your pediatrician for the next steps.
8. What is an appropriate schedule when introducing solid foods?
When your baby first starts solids, they will consume very little. It is best to think of solids as an “experience” or an appetizer to be served before a regular meal. As your little one becomes more comfortable with bringing food to their mouth and begins taking larger spoonfuls, they will adjust their calorie intake when they receive milk. A typical schedule for children who eat solids may be:
7:00 Wake-up, milk
9:00 Breakfast, solids
11:30 Wake-up, milk
1:00 Lunch, Solids
3:00 Small snack and/or milk
5:00 Dinner, Solids
*In the example above, continue providing milk at snack time until your child consumes enough solids to keep up with their activity level.
9. How should I prepare food when starting solids with my child?
If you follow a puree approach, you can take the food you would like to offer and steam it to soften and blend. You can use chia or flax seeds to increase the food’s texture or strain the food through a sieve to take some texture out.
For baby-led weaning, foods should be presented in long, thick pieces that a child can easily grab and bring to their mouth. As your child’s manual dexterity improves and they become more comfortable with solids, around 9-12 months, you can start to present smaller squares that your child can pick up in a pincer grasp and place in their molars for chewing.
10. How can I make sure my child gets practice chewing?
The best chewing practice is done with foods that your child is already eating. To ensure your child can chew foods, cut firm foods into long strips, as the BLW approach does. Help your child to place these strips on their molars, where they can bite down. (Children can still practice chewing this way even if they don’t have molars yet!) Additionally, teething bags can be filled with fresh fruits or steamed vegetables to help your child learn to chew if you are taking a puree approach and would like to give your child some practice before introducing other textures.