Starting Baby on Solids

By Jami Badershall, Communication Manager, Maine Dairy & Nutrition Council

Is your infant leaning towards the food on your plate or opening her mouth like a baby bird to ask for more? This behavior, along with drooling, could mean she is ready to take on solids, says Kyle Parks, MS,WIC Dietitian at Maine CDC. He adds that “complementary foods are typically introduced to healthy infants between 4-6 months of age,” but as with everything, “variances are normal” and “attention should be more focused on cues rather than a particular age.”

Before solids are introduced, an infant should also be able sit firmly upright and hold their head steady, indicating that they have the musculoskeletal development to prevent choking, he adds. Tongue maneuverability also develops to allow food into the mouth appropriately. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider or a nutrition authority, such as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), if you’re at all concerned about your baby’s development or have any questions about their nutrition.
I did a Q & A with Parks about introducing solids and new foods to baby and I think you’ll find his answers helpful if you are navigating this territory.
Q - What are some suggestions for first foods?
A Most importantly, first introductory foods should be a single ingredient (i.e. banana instead of strawberry-banana) with an appropriate time frame between additional single item foods. Seven days is a general rule of thumb between adding in new foods, but some infants may need less time when developmentally ready. During this timeframe, you’re looking for any signs or symptoms that your infant is reacting poorly to a new food; such as, a rash or unusual bowel movements. The initial food selection is less important than the overall introduction and process itself. Infants should be offered a variety of foods in the process described above. The caregiver should understand that it’s completely normal for an infant to reject foods at first. It’s not uncommon to have to introduce a food as many as 15 times before the infant accepts it. Establishing these positive dietary behaviors takes patience. Between rejections, allow your infant substantial time before reintroducing the previously rejected food and never force them to eat it (1-2 teaspoons constitutes a normal serving size for new foods).
Q - Are there any foods to be avoided?
A The two common safety considerations are choking risk and hypersensitivity. Infants whose parents have a strong history of adverse and/or allergic reactions to foods or food categories should delay introduction until anywhere from 1-3 years of age. These food categories include: dairy, egg, nuts, peanuts and fish, among others. Those who don’t have a family history of food sensitivities should generally delay higher risk foods until age 1.
Q - When transitioning from purees into more solid foods, how do you know if your child is actually ready to chew something? What should you start them off with? How do you prepare it/slice it?
A Infants are usually ready for smaller foods they can self-feed around the age of 8 months to 1 year old. At this point, they should be able to pick up the complementary food by themselves. Such foods are small and easy to chew, like cooked pastas, soft/ripe peeled fruits, cooked vegetables, etc. The readiness of feeding starts back when you first introduce complementary food. The muscular structure of the jaw develops during the time that those first foods are experienced and continues thereafter. Again, it’s a process that takes time and patience and a keen eye. It’s worth noting that slightly older children (2+ years) tend to prefer uncooked fruits and vegetables over cooked varieties.
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Q - When transitioning from purees into more solid foods, how do you know if your child is actually ready to chew something? What should you start them off with? How do you prepare it/slice it?
A Infants are usually ready for smaller foods they can self-feed around the age of 8 months to 1 year old. At this point, they should be able to pick up the complementary food by themselves. Such foods are small and easy to chew, like cooked pastas, soft/ripe peeled fruits, cooked vegetables, etc. The readiness of feeding starts back when you first introduce complementary food. The muscular structure of the jaw develops during the time that those first foods are experienced and continues thereafter. Again, it’s a process that takes time and patience and a keen eye. It’s worth noting that slightly older children (2+ years) tend to prefer uncooked fruits and vegetables over cooked varieties.
Q - Should I be portioning my baby’s food or let them eat as much as they want?
A Portion size is important for a few reasons. For starters, infants don’t need as much food as adults. Second, sense of failure can ensue when the infant doesn’t successfully consume the entirety of the meal (this is common when the portion size is too vast). Infants eat a fraction of what adults eat. Serving slightly less food can promote successful eating patterns. Children will ask for more if they aren’t satiated. Try one tablespoon of each food item that you plan to include in the meal and place it on a smaller plate than what you would eat from. Again, pointing to food, cries, smiling and excitement around food can all be signs of hunger, while pushing food away, closed lips, turning of the head and blocking food entry can be signs your infant is full.
Q - What are some of the most important nutrients for your baby to be getting in these early stages?
A All macro and micro nutrients are important for normal growth and development. Particularly the minerals: calcium, fluoride, iron, zinc and vitamins: B12, D and K are noteworthy. However, maternal nutrition plays a vital role in appropriate development of the infant. Vegetarian and vegan diets, whether for social, health, personal and/or religious reasons, have been around for a very long time. Well planned restrictive diets such as these have been approved by child nutrition authorities for older infants, but emphasis is placed on careful planning. There are concerns with vitamin B12, folic acid and vitamin D deficiencies with diets that don’t incorporate any animal products. Parents wishing to restrict food groups from their child’s diet should work closely with an RDN or nutrition authority to ensure diet adequacy, such as those that are provided to qualifying participants of WIC.