There are many stages in the development of our children. Each stage can be as challenging as it can be exciting. But perhaps few are quite as challenging and exciting as a baby’s transition from being breast or bottle fed to solids.
It not only marks a milestone in their development, but it raises a number of very important issues that parents should consider. Foremost is recognition that the food we serve to our babies will, in all likelihood, inform their eating habits as they grow and mature into adulthood.
In my work as a childbirth educator, I often touch on my top ten tips (the *The Tummy Thyme 101s) to make the feeding of solids a success. I would like to share these with you.
1. Incredible opportunity to share the world of food with your baby
Introducing solids makes this transition a positive experience for both you and your baby. It is important to understand that babies are motivated by curiosity not hunger. At this stage in their development, it is very much about the sensory experience – tastes, textures, bright colors and smells. We know that early positive experiences with food help to set your child up for good eating habits throughout their life (one of your most important legacies as a parent). Consider the idea of a ‘flavor window’, when a baby is more open than at any other stage in their life to trying new things. While it can be a daunting experience for some parents, introducing solid foods to your baby is straightforward and natural.
2. Start around 6 months, or when your baby exhibits cues
Things to watch out for include good head control; the ability for your baby to sit on his/her own; showing an interest in food, for example, when they reach for food, open their mouth when offered food, being able to swallow food, and ability to remove food from the spoon without it all dribbling out. It is important to note that different pediatricians have different recommendations about when and what to start with, so consult with the person you trust.
3. Continue to breastfeed or bottle-feed
Breast milk or formula is the primary source of nutrition until around 12 months of age. At the beginning of the transition phase, the emphasis should be on play and exploration rather than eating. Consider also that breast milk has varied flavors, whereas formula milk has a single flavor. This might mean that the breastfed baby is more adventurous at the outset, but there are no long-term implications on food choices.
4. It doesn’t really matter what you feed your baby first, as long as it is an enjoyable experience for you both
Some parents take a reasonably conservative approach with the introduction of solids, preferring to limit the choice to rice cereal/singular ingredients. Other parents let the baby dictate the food they will try (within limits, of course). It is very important to remain neutral during feeding, so avoid positive or negative responses to the food you serve. Your child will cultivate his or her own monitor for likes/dislikes/hunger/fullness.
5. How do I feed my baby?
Let the fun (and mess) begin! Start by offering a couple of spoonfuls of puree (and add some breast milk or formula into the mixture). Ideally, try this when your baby is in a good mood and not ravenous, maybe an hour after feeding. If your baby doesn’t seem interested, try again a week or two later.
6. Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t like something
If your baby doesn’t seem interested in certain foods, don’t be disheartened. Research shows it can take up to 15 times of trying a food before we can be certain if they like it or not. Continue to offer foods your baby doesn’t love right away, perhaps even mixed with other foods they enjoy. If you are persistent, most babies will eventually like most foods.
7. Choose fresh, wholesome, organic whenever possible
Buying organic food is one of the best ways to limit your baby’s exposure to toxic, persistent pesticides (as well as to antibiotics, artificial growth hormones and GMOs). There is a difference between fresh and shelf-stable foods (nutrient-dense vs. energy dense), which can take up to two years before they reach the supermarket. Budget often dictates what we buy and the frequency that we buy it. But in my experience, it is possible to buy fresh, wholesome and organic ingredients relatively cheaply at local markets or online via trusted suppliers. If you cannot buy it all of the time, even some of the time is a better option than never.
8. Be flexible
A baby’s food preferences change from day to day as will their appetite. This can be the result of teething, illness, and a host of other reasons. Take the pressure off by allowing yourself to be flexible to meet your baby’s changing moods and needs.
9. Introduce a variety of tastes and textures, herbs and spice
Different cultures have different foods so we should avoid limiting a baby’s diet to one specific style of food preparation. What a wonderful opportunity to start your baby’s journey of culinary discovery by introducing different types of food at an early age.
10. Trust your baby – they know how to regulate their own appetite
Mindful eating is very important; avoid television or other distractions that can compromise the enjoyment of eating. Eating together as a family is very important. It isn’t always practical, but try to find a common time for the family to sit together and, as your baby matures, to serve the same food so that the meal is truly a shared experience.