I’m not pregnant, nor do I have a baby I’m transitioning to solids. However, I’ve had four, and seeing as how I have quite a few friends navigating this path or who are headed there in the near future, I thought I’d write a few words on our own experiences of how we have introduced solid food to our infants. For us, the transition to solid food is not marked by any great increase in food we purchase. There are no sudden purchases in the baby food aisle. Instead, it is marked by us simply providing an extra small bowl, a food mill and a teeny, tiny spoon at the dinner table. Before we get to the table, though, we need to start at the beginning.
How do you know when the baby is ready?
Look for signs that your baby is ready to start eating solids. Generally this happens between 4 to 6 months of age, and most doctors recommend waiting until 6 months before introducing solid foods. (Be sure to talk to your pediatrician for advice on your own child.) For us, signs were always obvious. There would be squeals during dinner and a genuine interest in what everyone was putting in their mouth. Our babies would also start reaching for food and make little mouth movements that looked almost like they were mimicking the eating going on around them.
Another indicator is that babies will seem to go through a growth spurt at the same time, where they start wanting to nurse or take more bottles than normal, even waking at night when they had not before. This sign that they are still hungry even after plenty of breast milk or formula is often one of the things that forces parents into the solid food realm.
What should you offer as first foods?
You can always buy foods specifically for baby, but I tend to pull out a few steamed vegetables or a piece of soft fruit to mash and puree for baby. I do this before salting or adding spices. A food mill is relatively cheap, and it’s a worthwhile investment if it means you’re not buying prepackaged baby foods all the time. (I tried to limit prepackaged baby foods to when fresh, local organic and in-season produce wasn’t available in the winter or for when we’d be out of the house during mealtime.)
Some of our first foods included yogurt (vanilla especially and then fruit flavors as baby has been introduced to them, YoBaby is a favorite and readily available), winter squash, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans, bananas, peaches, pears, apples. As first foods, I peeled and cooked food thoroughly, then passed through the baby mill or pureed until smooth. You can also strain foods that may have stringy membranes, like green beans, to be sure there’s nothing for baby to choke on. Introduce foods one at a time, waiting in between to be sure there is no allergic reaction to any new food. Some high-allergen foods should be avoided until baby is older, though new studies are showing perhaps not avoided as long as previously thought.
What if a food is rejected?
Try, try again. If your infant doesn’t seem to love a certain food offering, just mix it up and come back around to it later. Don’t be discouraged. It can take many trials for a baby to accept new foods, and now is the time to be introducing new flavors slowly so they become accustomed to them, something that can take upwards of 20 different feedings. Those are a lot of strained peas and pureed sweet potato meals before they may not seem to wrinkle their nose at the new food.
What should the baby drink?
Since all four of my children were exclusively breastfed, I simply nursed after dinner to let them wash down their meal. If your baby is on a formula, I would suggest offering a bottle in the same manner. Babies shouldn’t drink water until after six months, and even then just sparingly, and cow’s milk should be avoided until after a year.
Introducing our children to solid food was always an exciting experience for our family. The kids would all want to get in on helping to feed their baby brother or sister, and the babies were excited to be a part of the dinner table excitement. It was calm, relaxed, natural and sometimes messy and full of never-ending excitement.
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