Transitioning baby onto solid food is an exciting time as they enter the culinary world. It can also be a daunting one, but with a few simple tricks and these nutritious foods as a base, it can be easy and fun for both you and your baby.
The World Health Organisation recommends waiting to introduce solids until 6 months of age, and the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology recommend any time between 4-6 months.
You really need to be guided by your child, but I certainly wouldn’t rush it.
Your child is ready for solids when:
- They are able to sit in a chair and hold their head upright
- They show interest in your food
- They open their mouth when you put food to their lips
Always offer solids after (not before) a breast or bottle feed, otherwise baby may fill up on solids and be too full for their milk (which is their main source of nutrition until 12 months of age).
Whether you choose baby-led weaning or purees, or a mixture of both – it’s up to you. There is no right or wrong way to feed your child.
Start with plain foods such as vegetables, fruits or pureed meats to begin with. Avocados are a great first food as they are packed full of nutrition and a good texture.
Try and eat at the same time that you feed baby, so that they can watch and learn from you.
In the first few weeks, baby may only eat a couple of teaspoons, working up to a couple of tablespoons over time.
At this age, food is for fun and learning until they are 1, so don’t worry too much if they aren’t eating a huge amount. The amount they eat will depend on how active they are, and a number of other factors.
It’s important to let baby lead the way in telling you how much they want to eat, and not push them past their full signals. They are very good at listening to their body and knowing when they are full, a skill which they need to be able to carry with them into childhood and adulthood.
Signs that baby is full:
- Turning their head away
- Closing their mouth
- Pushing the spoon away
When introducing solids, breast milk or formula remains the main source of nutrition, with solids complimenting the breast milk or formula, not replacing it.
This is an important time for the development of the fine motor skills required for eating and where the shaping of healthy eating behaviours which carry on into later life, begins.
Nutritionally, the main priority at this age for the baby is iron. At birth, baby enters the world with adequate storage of the iron it has received via the mother during pregnancy. By six months of age, these stores are likely depleted or very low and need to be replenished. Iron is essential for cognitive development and may also play a role in sleep regulation.
By weight, the sixth month old baby’s iron requirements are higher than an adult. A 7-12 month old baby requires 11mg per day. To compare, an 18-50 year old female requires 18 mg per day and an adult male requires even less than a baby at 8 mg per day.
It is difficult for a baby to receive their required amount of iron from food alone.
One way in which you can ensure baby receives adequate iron is fortified rice cereal. I see rice cereal not as a first food on its own(Gone are the days where we need to be feeding babies only bland rice cereal for the first few weeks), but rather as an iron supplement which can be added to their normal food.
Recently there has been a movement by some parents away from rice cereal (which is fortified with iron), with concern that it may cause obesity. But this is a simplistic view based on only one doctor’s opinion on a radio interview rather than scientific evidence. Many factors contribute to childhood obesity, not just one single food.
Certainly if babies were feeding only rice cereal and in large amounts every day, the carbohydrate load would be too great. However, considering the short time-frame it is used for (we used it for approximately 8 weeks), the benefits to the baby’s brain and overall development far outweigh any risk of obesity. Personally, cognitive development is a priority for my baby at this point in time and for this reason, I chose to include a couple of teaspoons of iron fortified oat or brown rice cereal mixed with her food to ensure baby was getting the required dose of iron she needs for her brain to grow.
So, as part of a varied diet containing fruit, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, protein and good fats, rice cereal can fit in as a small part of a first introduction to solids. Add the fortified cereal to your normal veggies, meats, and fruits when introducing solids, rather than just relying on plain rive cereal on its own.
Look for iron fortified brown rice or oat cereal, and mix with vegetables, meat or fruit. Other iron rich foods include cooked red meat (pureed or mashed depending on age) lentils and beans.
Let them explore
Letting babies explore food and built their love of food by offering them control and ownership, makes for less fussy eaters. Research has shown that children who eat a wide variety of foods are less likely to develop obesity at a later age.
Pieces of food that they can hold in their hand, such as large carrot or celery sticks from the fridge, are perfect for developing hand-eye co-ordination and are great at soothing teething gums. The ‘Noobie nibbler’ is a great tool for enabling your child explore food, available from all supermarkets. Pieces of food such as steak or fruit are placed inside the mesh bag and baby is free to suck on the bag, exploring the taste of the food without having to worry about baby choking.
Keep in mind that a baby often needs to be exposed to a new food up to ten times before they will accept it! So if your baby refuses to eat a certain food, don’t stress, it is important to keep offering that food every couple of days.
Let there be mess
It’s inevitable that babies will make mess and studies have shown that the more a baby is able to play with and enjoy food, the less likely they are to be a fussy eater. A baby whose mother is constantly getting anxious or angry at meal times ‘Aaargh, you spilled broccoli all over the floor AGAIN’ can quickly develop fear and anxiety associated with eating. I would hate to eat dinner with my husband watching my every move and getting angry at me for enjoying my meal!
As hard as it is to have the floor covered in broccoli, give in to the mess and let baby explore.
Make sure you eat too
Being a new parent, it’s hard to find the time to take care of yourself. With the endless washing, sleepless nights, and floor covered in broccoli, this is an important time where you need regular healthy food for optimum energy and mental alertness. You can ensure both you and bub are looked after by cooking foods that both of you can enjoy, making extra-large batches to be used across several different meals.
This article was first published in Noosa Style Magazine
Tara is a university-qualified nutritionist, renowned for her no-nonsense approach to nutrition and health. She helps families learn how to live a healthy life without the need for fad diets or expensive crazy ingredients. Just real food, simply.