Everything you need to know about starting solid foods
Is your baby ready for solid foods?
The standard recommendation is that infants begin complementary foods along with continuing breastfeeding at the age of six months. Some recommendations follow the guidelines of 4-6 months, however, it is rare to see these stages before 6 months. So how do you know specifically when your baby is ready?
Here are the specific signs a baby will be ready to consume solid foods:
- They can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady.
- They can coordinate hands/eyes/mouth so they can look at foods and pick them up then put them in their mouth themselves.
- They are able to swallow food and won’t push food out of their mouth (more on their face than in their mouth).
These stages show that your baby has the cognitive and motor abilities to eat on their own. This principle is a part of the concept of baby-led weaning. You will begin to replace breastfeeding sessions with these meals. However, it is important to keep breastfeeding because they will still be getting the majority of their nutrition from your milk in the beginning.
Once you start to include solid foods in your baby's diet, you will increase complementary foods to 2-3 meals at the ages of 6-8 months. Then through 9-23 months, you will increase to 3-4 feedings during the day. One of the best methods is to offer finger-sized foods for them to “gum” and feed themself during meals as opposed to being fed pureed food with a spoon. This will also help cognitive development and chewing abilities, dexterity, as well as hand-eye coordination.
Eventually, your baby will be able to meet all of their nutritional needs through foods, but you can and should still breastfeed for as long as it suits you and your baby.
Solid foods introduction: What is the best approach?
SO WHAT ARE COMPLEMENTARY FOODS?
Compliment or complementary? Lol
It is really just a fancy word for introducing solid foods to your baby's diet. Your baby's diet should be exclusively breastfed, or formula, until the age of 6 months. Thereafter, you will begin to introduce solid foods. However, the majority of your baby's diet should still be composed of breastmilk.
But when does this transition occur and how long should you be breastfeeding for?
The answer is that it differs for everyone. Some babies after 6 months are done with breastfeeding and some breastfeed for years. However, there are a couple of different ways that different entities recommend beginning solid foods.
So what do we recommend?
We recommend baby-led weaning at around 6 months of age. What is that? Well in short it is allowing your baby to decide when to stop breastfeeding and begin their transition into solid foods.
Baby-led weaning is the new exciting way to feed your baby, it's popular with influencers and health gurus--- but what exactly is it?
Baby-led weaning is the idea that infants can and should be self-feeding vs spoon-feeding pureed foods. Previously, infants were fed at 4 months of age-- however, at this time they weren't actually able to feed themselves because they didn't have the properly developed motor skills. This is why they spoon-fed pureed foods.
Baby-led weaning not only encourages self-feeding but also encourages the beginning of feeding solid foods when the baby is ready (which is typically around the age of 6 months).
Baby-led weaning also fits better with the recommendation of exclusively breastfeeding until 6 months of age.
Breastfed infants are typically better at self-regulating vs bottle-fed infants because they are allowed to feed for as long as they want without external factors stopping them. They are also able to taste different flavors within the breastmilk and tend to be more open to trying new foods, textures, and flavors. Often infants that are fed in this way show higher intakes of 'healthier foods' such as fruits and vegetables and less processed foods.
The basic principles of baby-led weaning include:
Infants are feeding themselves directly and you are only assisting them. You want them to feed slowly --- and you must remain calm and patient. It is important to encourage children to eat--- NEVER to force them.
Feeding times should be periods with learning and love—talking to your child during feeding with engaged eye contact. Make sure that the environment is pleasant, and that the child is seated comfortably---ideally facing others. Do not be afraid to feed with family and friends during mealtimes!
If children refuse foods, experiment with different combinations, tastes, textures, and methods of encouragement. Your child may respond differently to different stimuli.
Other helpful hints:
Try your best to ensure that the food is healthy, tasty, developmentally appropriate, and offered on a predictable schedule so the child is likely to be hungry.
Encourage and attend to the child’s signals of hunger and satiety.
Be responsive to feeding cues just like when you were breastfeeding.
Be supportive, contingent, and responsive in a developmentally appropriate manner.
Minimize distractions during meals, especially if the child loses interest easily.
Expectations should be communicated clearly between caregiver and child.
How do you know when your baby is ready for solid foods?
Again, your baby is considered developmentally ready for solid foods when they are able to sit independently (without you or using their hands to hold themselves up)--- they are able to reach/rake/scoop for foods, and they are able to hold foods and bring them to their mouth.
It is important that your infant shows all signs of being ready--- otherwise, they will not be able to sit up, chew, and swallow foods appropriately. If they do not show these abilities, they should not attempt their self-feeding --- reason to wait 6 months before beginning solid foods.
What kinds of foods should be given?
One of the main ideas is that infants will start to participate in mealtimes and eat 'family foods' or foods that the family is also consuming. This not only brings in a developmental piece but also a social piece to the child's education and growth. There will be family foods that are suitable for the infant and many that require modification to reduce salt and sugar intake.
Foods that are suitable as-is, include: graspable, stick-shaped foods like crackers, fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, well-cooked eggs, bread (or toast), pasta, and most fish.
Below are some 'baby foods' that are typically given as pureed --- however, can be eaten as is, worry-free!
Broccoli-Served as a floret-sized piece, large enough for your baby to hold with some protruding from the fist. Steamed to a soft consistency.
Banana-Skin is left on the bottom section of the banana (this gives the infant something to grip) and the top section is peeled for your baby to eat.
Pasta- Large pieces such as spirals or strips of lasagne are offered as part of the meal.
Beef-Slow cooked or stewed, offered as a chunk or a strip of meat, large enough for the infant to hold with some protruding from the fist.
We advise offering soft whole foods and to avoid hard foods such as raw apples and nuts until later in childhood, due to the risk of choking. The most commonly offered first foods (offered at six months of age) are vegetables steamed or boiled such as; pumpkin, potato, kumara, sweet potato, broccoli, carrot, and fruit such as avocado and banana; all of which can be cooked appropriately, i.e., cooked until soft.
The infant is also offered milk (ideally breast milk or formula) on-demand until they self-wean. This ensures that the baby is receiving the nutrients and continued immunities (w/ breastmilk) they need while introducing solid foods. Especially in the early stages where the baby is 'gumming' (sucking, etc.) the food rather than actually eating it.
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What is the difference between baby-led weaning and parental weaning?
Parental-led weaning is driven by the parent. It is thought that parent-led weaning may cause a negative impact on infant feeding style as well as on weight due to parents overriding infant feeding cues. Baby-led weaning tends to be more responsive, providing there is no pressure or restrictions in the eating process. This gives the baby the ability to make choices based on their feelings of hunger--- similar to breastfeeding--- and preparing them for intuitive eating for the rest of their life.
Studies show that mothers who use baby-led weaning methods typically had less anxiety about introductory foods and were more likely to breastfeed their babies.
These infants also had greater participation during mealtimes and greater exposure to family foods and varieties. Mothers also reported significantly lower levels of restriction, the pressure to eat, monitoring, and concern over child weight compared to mothers that were spoon-feeding.
What if they aren't ready?
Many studies show that approximately 90% of 8-month-old babies had reached for food, and even before that ---40% before 6 months.
Some infants may have developmental delays and in which case, self-feeding may not be feasible. Medical nutritional intervention should be put in place to avoid the development of poorer nutritional status. <10% of children may need this type of monitored nutritional intake.
Choking is definitely a scary event and can happen in any feeding situation, baby-led, or spoon-feeding. Infants still need to be watched while eating, even though you're not the one feeding them. This actually makes it easier because if you are sitting down eating you can also be monitoring your baby instead of having to spoon feed him/her. Your baby will be able to interact with the family and participate in the social event of eating.
With that being said, choking is more likely with hard foods such as raw apples or round coin-shaped foods, such as slices of sausage. Also, if the child is distracted while eating, they are more likely to choke on food. In most incidents of choking during self-feeding, infants were able to cough it up and parental intervention was not necessary. And for many parents, they are eventually able to tell the difference between choking and the gagging sensation. All babies have a very sensitive gag reflex that only decreases as they get older and have more experience with food. Eventually, the gag sensation moves back in the throat as time goes on, meaning there will be little to no gagging by 8-9 months.
If you like the idea of baby-led weaning and want to learn more, contact us at Mamas Maternal Healthy and see what we have to offer here! We have a package for every level of learning and would love to help you in your motherhood journey!
Iron after birth:
Infant iron stores last between 4-6 months after birth and after should be supplemented. Many infants past 6 months are able to go without an iron supplement or iron-fortified foods because they are more likely to eat iron-rich foods at the dinner table such as meat (chicken, beef, etc.). If an infant is not able to self-feed at six months then supplementation of iron or other nutrients may be necessary.
How to prevent baby bottle tooth decay or carries
What is the cause?
Exposure to sugary or carbohydrate-filled liquids/foods for prolonged periods of time. For example, when a baby falls asleep with a bottle in his/her mouth, hence the name 'baby-bottle caries'. This is not exclusive to formula-fed infants---it can occur with breastfed infants as well.
Baby-bottle tooth decay or carries can also be caused by bacteria passing into the baby's mouth such as a dirty pacifier...OR if your baby does not receive enough fluoride, which helps to strengthen teeth.
Why is this bad?
Although your baby will have their baby teeth for a shorter amount of time than their adult teeth, they are still important. Baby teeth begin the phase where they actually learn to eat and nourish their bodies through food. Without these teeth, it would be hard to have all of the variety of foods available.
How do you prevent it?
Make sure that you clean your baby's gums or teeth after feeding--- especially before bed so that the milk does not sit in the mouth while they are sleeping. Once the baby has teeth, clean them with a small amount of toothpaste that contains fluoride. Make sure to thoroughly clean anything that might enter the baby's mouth such as pacifiers. Lastly, encourage your children to use a cup by their first birthday to help prevent holding a bottle in their mouth. If you have to put your baby to bed with a bottle, fill it with water instead of any other fluid.
Once your baby has their first tooth, you will want to schedule regular dentist appointments to maintain healthy teeth!
Weaning: From Bottle or Breast to Cup
One way to combat baby bottle tooth decay is through weaning to a cup. But as we know, our little ones can become attached to their bottle and it may be hard for them to give it up. So how do we start to wean them?
It is not a matter of 'can they drink from a cup'. Even newborn infants, if supported correctly, can drink from a cup (in some cases-- it is recommended to feed your baby from a cup if specified).
When it comes to taking a baby off the bottle or breast, it is definitely an emotional battle ---there can be certain comforts and safety associated with a bottle that the baby may not be ready to give up.
For this reason, you have to start with the feeding that is their least favorite--the one that they won't miss as much. Usually, this feeding is during the day because they are more likely to be distracted--- and you have the ability to substitute the feeding time with another activity.
This could be with toys/activities with mom or even cups that are fun and exciting that would make your little one more interested in something other than feeding.
Eventually, you will create new routines, and slowly decrease the number of feeding sessions. NOTE: Make sure you are replacing the feeding with other foods so that your baby isn't underfed.
The hardest feeding session to end is usually the one right before bedtime. There is the most emotional attachment to this one--because it helps to soothe your baby to sleep. If both mom and baby mutually agree to continue this feeding, there is no harm in continuing it.
Eventually, if as the mother you want to end this feeding--- depending on the age, you may have to supplement with formula or milk to help with your baby's routine-- until the change feels normal. Eventually, you may add water or they may become completely disinterested in any type of 'nourishment'.
P.S.A.: Cow's milk is not recommended until after 1 year of age, so your baby should be getting your milk or formula until then to provide enough nutrients.
What are some ways to help you start using a cup?
When you start to use a cup, fill it with breastmilk or formula so that they have the incentive to drink it at first. As you go start to fill with water outside of meals to get them used to it. If you go out, bring a cup instead of a bottle and fill it with water for them to drink instead.
Instead of using a bottle, your little one may be able to be distracted by a new activity such as games, puzzles, blocks, or other toys. You may begin taking them on a walk every day. Again focus on new routines to replace the old ones. Children like structure.
What kind of cup should you use?
Unfortunately, infants are given 'training cups' or 'sippy cups' which have a no-spill valve on them. These however do not differ much from a bottle and inhibit the actual sipping mechanism. Be aware of this when looking to shift to cups.
Reminder: The recommendations for breastfeeding are exclusivity for the first 6 months with no complementary foods. At 6 months, continue feedings through 2 years of the infant's life. If you want to wean before then, we recommend supplementation of formula before the consideration of other foods/cows milk due to their differing nutrient make up. After 6 months, you can try your luck with a cup-- but you may have to assist as your infant may not be able to hold it themselves.
What is actually in your baby food?
Lastly, let's talk about baby food, what is actually in the food that is marketed for your little one?
There are hundreds of different brands out there that have fortified this and enriched that... everything claiming the best health for your baby. But what is the best thing to actually give to your baby?
If you decide that baby food made by a company is the way to go, make sure you are checking the labels and ingredients, it may not just be fruit or vegetable puree. Many baby foods are full of other additives and preservatives, but also added sodium and sugars. This is unnecessary for an infant and is not healthy for an infant at this stage of life.
Many parents choose to make their own baby food, which is a great way to ensure that no extra ingredients go into your baby's food. However, for some, the time it takes is not feasible, and that is okay. So what should you look for?
Your best option, in this case, is finding a baby food brand that has the least amount of ingredients as possible. We aren't talking just carrots with beets and tomatoes vs single ingredients, we're talking sugar sweeteners, fruit juice concentrates, rice flour, corn starch, etc. In fact, it has been found that 1/3 of all baby foods have sugar concentrated fruit juice or sugar sweeteners. These foods are fillers and the concentration may cause issues with bowel regulation.
Also, on another note, 60% of these companies market baby foods to infants less than 6 months of age. The American Association of Pediatrics states that infants should be given breastmilk exclusively for the first 6 months of life and given complementary foods with feedings thereafter. They recommend breastmilk as the best choice for nutrition, but for parents feeding formula, a baby should still not get complementary foods until after they turn 6 months. Therefore marketing that baby food is for infants below the age of 6 months is not accurate. Many companies take advantage of parents looking to provide good nutrition for their babies.
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Watch out for baby foods that contain harmful toxins!
WARNING! You may be accidentally buying harmful baby food... so READ BELOW!
In a study done that looked at 168 different baby food products and tested for 4 of the most common heavy metals --lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury--- researchers found that 95% of the tested foods had at least one of these heavy metals. That means ONLY 9 of the 168 baby foods were heavy metal-free!
What's WORSE?! 1 in 4 of the baby foods had ALL four metals. That's insane!
The most commonly contaminated foods were rice products, fruit juices, sweet potato products, and carrots. They have a higher affinity for absorbing these metals causing build-up. Unfortunately, infant formula was another culprit in regards to containing heavy metals due to its ingredients and processing.
Why are you seeing these minerals in your foods? Because they are naturally occurring elements that were frequently used as ingredients in pesticides. Because these were so heavily used in the past, remnants are still in the soil TODAY. They are even found in our groundwater for the same reason.
LIFE LESSON: What we do today WILL affect our future... as women, mothers, earth-friendly tactics, etc,...
"So if you're saying we still see these in our foods today AND they are naturally occurring --- why should I be so concerned about them?"
Well, these heavy metals are considered neurotoxins, which ultimately means they can negatively affect overall brain development. During pregnancy and postpartum, your baby's brain is growing at such high speed-- you DO NOT want to inhibit any type of positive development.
How can we stop these heavy metals from getting into our foods? Specifically baby food?
The FDA absolutely needs to mandate more regulations on these products. This is the next generation for goodness sake! Why are we trying to mess with their brains?!
For now, what are steps that you can take to ensure your little one isn't exposed to these toxins?
You can choose food items that don't include the ones mentioned such as oatmeal, multigrain cereals, using other teething alternatives and breastfeeding. You can also choose to make your own and not have processed foods in the mix with your baby, which also brings back control as to what is included in your little one's diet. By following these guides, you can dramatically reduce their exposure by 80%!
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