Feeding your baby is the most important, and confusing, part of new parenthood. There is so much advice out there—from relatives, in-laws, friends and even mild acquaintances. Additionally, nutrition research keeps changing all the rules, so it becomes even more difficult to decide what is best for your baby. Still, there are some absolutes that never change:
- Use your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right or makes your baby miserable, it isn’t right for you or your baby. Every baby is different, so follow your baby’s cues.
- There isn’t a right or wrong way to introduce foods, whether you chose to begin with pureed foods and spoon feed or jump right into baby led weaning, do what you are most comfortable with.
What follows is meant to be a guideline. Some babies advance sooner than others, while some may be premature or don’t advance as quickly and should be held back until they reach their “corrected” age or when they are developmentally ready.
Starting Out: Breast milk is the recommended and preferred first infant food for all babies and is encouraged by pediatricians, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as most other professional health organizations. Commercial infant formulas are the second choice and will allow most infants to grow well. Whichever method you choose, breast milk or formula is all your baby needs for the first 6 months of life.
Solid Food Readiness: A baby’s immune system is immature during those first few months. Introducing any solid food too early can trigger sensitivities or allergies, and many of the enzymes needed to digest solids are not yet available in sufficient amounts to allow the food to be properly metabolized. Most importantly, an infant does not possess the ability to manipulate and swallow solid foods until around 6 months, so offering them can cause gagging or choking. Solid foods should be considered supplementary, not a replacement for breast milk or formula which is the main source of nutrients from birth to 12 months.
Your baby is ready for solid foods when these things happen:
- Has doubled birth weight
- Can sit in a high chair and support their head on their neck
- Opens their mouth when they see a spoon approaching
- She can swallow some of the food that you put in their mouth
Important Vitamins: Adequate vitamins and minerals, for the first six months, are found in both breast milk and formula. However, additional vitamin D might be recommended for some breastfeeding babies. Infants receive a 6 month supply of iron received from their mother at birth. At 6 months of age that supply is diminished and a supplemental source of iron is needed. This can come from iron fortified cereals, meats, or iron rich vegetables.
Traditional Spoon Feeding: Until recently, this was the way most parents introduced solids to their children. You start with smooth pureed vegetables, fruit and cereals and then gradually progress to mashed or chopped foods so they get used to the textures. For example mashed banana or a sweet potato before finally introducing finger foods such as toast, pasta, cooked vegetable sticks.
- You will know how much they have eaten
- You can ensure they are getting a varied diet
- It is less messy
- You can use jars and pouches (especially handy when out and about)
- You can make up meals ahead of time and freeze them until needed
- Preparing lots of different purees can be time consuming
- Spoon-feeding at mealtimes means that you don’t really eat together
- They get used to the smooth textures so sometimes it’s hard to get them to accept textures
Baby Led Weaning: The goal of baby led weaning is to let baby feed themselves. It’s important to think about the size and shape of the food you’re offering, to make sure that baby can pick up, grasp and eat. Toast, cucumber, carrot sticks, broccoli, meat – whatever they are able to hold and sensibly chew (or gum!) That’s the essence of it. If they like it, they eat it, if they don’t they won’t. Remember that baby-led feeding is controlled by your baby – so don’t give into temptation to place the food into their mouth, or otherwise guide their feeding. Your role is to let them explore and develop at their own pace, and provide nutritious food shaped for their developmental stage.
- No baby purees to make
- You can eat together as they feed themselves
- Meal times are social occasions from the very beginning
- Your baby gets to explore a range of flavors and textures sooner
- No rejection of ‘lumpy’ food
- Helps to improve dexterity, early oral-motor skill development and self-regulation
- Can be very messy
- Uncertainty about how much they have actually eaten
- Can feel like you are throwing a lot of food away
- Can sometimes be difficult to find something suitable when eating out, especially things with low salt and seasonings
- Opinions offered from people who have never tried it
- Can be a bit scary hearing them gag and you do have to be extra vigilant about choking
There is no “right” way to introduce solids. What might work really well for one baby, might not work so well for the next. Both methods can work really well–it just depends on both the baby and the parents as to which method (or perhaps a combo) will work better. I also truly believe that both methods can be “baby-led”, especially if you pay really close attention to your baby’s cues and don’t coax or force your baby to eat. Baby-led feeding allows your baby to be in charge of whether and how much they eat. It gives them the opportunity to eat until comfortably full, which allows them to trust their inner cues when it comes to hunger and fullness.
Relax and enjoy the first six months or your baby’s life. If your baby is growing, content and happy, you can be assured you have done everything right! Whichever route you choose try not to stress about mealtimes and embrace the mess. Remember that infant feeding is all about learning and experimenting and should be fun. Good luck!