Introducing solids into your babies diet can be a scary step but it’s an exciting time! There is so much information out there and it can be difficult to know when or how to start. There are so many myths surrounding introducing solids too that it can be so easy to think you have to do one thing or another.
So, how do you know when to start?
Generally, it is recommended that your baby is at least 6 months old for starters. Then there are 3 things that your baby should be able to do before you start this journey. Making sure that your baby is steady and sturdy, that they can hold their heads steady is important. They need to feel very safe and secure so a good highchair is so important. You’ll need to ensure that your baby has leg support too, so that their ankles, knees and legs are at a 90-degree angle. Choose a highchair with a good footrest so that your baby’s feet aren’t left to dangle! Be careful not to use something like a bouncy chair or seating pod, you’ll want to make sure they have a more stable base than this. You’ll want your baby to have good hand-eye coordination too, before you start. Coordination for picking up toys and moving them to their mouth is a good sign to watch out for! The final check is whether baby has lost their tongue thrust. This is when your baby pushes things out of their mouth with their tongue. Interestingly, this is actually an evolutionary thing to stop baby from swallowing dangerous items! You can easily check this by placing the tip of a clean finger or a baby spoon on their bottom lip. If the tongue pops out to push it away, the tongue thrust reflex is still there. If your baby readily opens her mouth instead, then the tongue thrust reflex is gone.
When you are happy that your baby is ready (and you are!), you’ll now want to start introducing solids. It’s really important to remember that at this stage, you are only introducing solids to compliment nutrition and help them learn this exciting next developmental step. Milk is still the most important part of your baby’s diet until they are at least a year old. When your baby starts to explore with food, their actual intake is minimal (most will be on the table or floor but we’ll get on to that later!) so they will still need their normal milk routine.
So, now is the fun part, you are about to start exploring food with your baby! There are a few things you’ll want to ensure you have, these include;
Bibs or muslin cloths
Spoons (shallow to start)
Storage containers suitable for the freezer
Sippy / open cup
A Blender (a handheld one is fine)
Flannels / wipes
A large wipe clean mat
You really don’t need to spend loads of money on expensive gadgets, you’ll grow out of them quickly and they’ll just end up cluttering your kitchen!
When you start to prepare your food, think about the textures! You don’t have to stick purees OR finger food; you really can offer both. It won’t confuse your baby or put them at more risk of choking like the myths say. You can teach your baby to self-feed and eat independently if they have purees. To get both you and baby started, you might want to start them off with puree, get them used to this new step – new tastes, new sensations. You can then move on to mashed foods, then chopped alongside finger foods. There are loads of options in supermarkets to choose from and these are convenient, however, it is worth looking at the sugar and salt contents – 2 things you really don’t want your baby to have too much of. Preparing your own foods really is quite easy, you aren’t making them a 3 course meal! To make smooth foods, just try pushing food through a sieve or blend it with your baby’s milk! Mashed foods just have lumpier textures – use a fork to mash bits! Simple! Finger foods are straightforward, just foods cut into size and shapes that mean your baby can easily pick them up and feed themselves. It is generally better to use soft foods for this at first, so they are easy to bite and chew.
One thing you cannot get away from during this marvellous developmental step is, Mess. You really cannot escape this! I have so many pictures on my phone of my children when they were babies with hummus in their hair and avocado smeared across their face! Babies learn this new skill by using all their senses and repeating experiences over and over. It is best to simply embrace the mess! You don’t want baby to associate exploring foods with a negative response, it should be a fun learning experience. You could do some fun activities with food like getting a tuft tray or floor mat and giving your baby food to touch and feel. Let them enjoy the new sensations! It can be a fun bonding experience and rainy day activity for you both too!
One thing that all parents get worried about during this step is choking and this is understandable. It’s worth remembering, so long as baby is ready and you practice safe eating - using a suitable high chair, sitting up properly and providing suitable well-cooked soft foods cut into appropriate sizes - the risk of choking is low. It can be easy to confuse gagging with choking and of course, if your baby does gag, it can be alarming however your baby has a gag reflex as a natural body defence to stop choking. There are some great first aid courses out there for new parents, if you are anxious, it would be worth completing one as you’ll learn some fantastic skills as well as put your mind to rest.
There are quite a few safety considerations to consider, such as safe preparation of food, ensuring surfaces and utensils are clean as well as making sure food is prepared at a safe temperature. One of the most important things is not to leave baby unattended when they are eating.
Introducing solids is an exciting part of your baby’s developmental journey. It signals a new chapter in their life where they are becoming more independent and are becoming more aware of the world around them. Enjoy this messy stage, my top tip – just don’t put your baby in your favourite outfits whilst they are eating!