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Introducing solids to baby can be full of unknowns (and honestly kind of scary), especially for first-time parents. I always had parents in my office at this stage of infancy with a laundry list of questions and concerns they had about starting their infant on solid foods.
Once you’ve educated yourself on the basics of introducing solids to baby (which I will cover below) you really just have to listen and do what is best for your little one and your family. Watching them discover new foods and develop new skills is one of my favorite things about this feeding journey.
Let’s dive in…
When to Start Introducing Solids to Baby?
You can typically start introducing solids to babies around 4 to 6 months of age. What I look for (and what you should look for) to determine if my clients are ready to start solids are a few different developmental milestones or achievements.
If your tiny foodie is between 4-6 months of age and does all four of the below, it may be a good time to start introducing foods:
- Sit up with little to no support.
- Hold their head steady.
- Open their mouth when a spoon of food is placed in front of them.
- Shows interest in food and eating.
Methods of Introducing Solid Foods
One of the first things you need to do when getting ready to start solid foods with your baby is to determine what method you are going to use. There are three methods:
- Purees (spoon-feeding)
- Baby-Led Weaning (self-feeding)
- A combination of the two methods above
Purees or Spoon-Feeding
The spoon-feeding method is the traditional method used to introduce solid foods to your baby. It consists of you buying or making homemade pureed fruits and veggies. Then you spoon-feed the baby food to your baby at mealtime.
Pros of Purees:
- Cleanliness – you are in control, so you control the mess
- Quick + easy – you simply buy the baby food prepared at the store, ready to feed
- Less waste – the majority of the food will end up eaten by your baby
Cons of Purees:
- Only recommended to be used until 9 months of age
- Increased risk of picky eating later on – especially with textures
- Delayed development of appetite control + intuitive eating
- Easy to overfeed + wean too quickly
- Delayed development in social skills at the dinner table because your baby isn’t eating with the family
- Baby isn’t able to touch and explore – decreased sensory involvement
Important: If you chose to use the pureed introduction method you need to start graduating your baby from pureed baby foods by 9 months of age.
Baby-Led Weaning or Self-Feeding
Self-feeding is becoming an increasingly popular method of introducing solids. I absolutely recommend starting with BLW if it fits you and your family. There are tons of benefits to self-feeding.
Baby-led weaning, in a nutshell, is introducing the same foods you eat, at mealtime to babies when they are ready – no purees & no spoon-feeding! This encourages babies to wean from breastmilk or formula on their own time, hence the name baby-led weaning!
Pros of Baby-Led Weaning:
- Promotes self-feeding
- Promotes the developmental skills for feeding they’ll use throughout the rest of their life
- Develops healthy eating habits
- Encourages weaning on their own time
- Mealtime is easier + more enjoyable
- Learn and develop social cues at mealtime
- Lower risk of picky eating
- Saves you money
- Eating out is easier
- Promotes family bonding
Related: 10 Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning
Cons of Baby-Led Weaning:
- Messier than purees
- More food is wasted
I recommend starting solids foods using the baby-led weaning methods, as long as:
- you are comfortable with letting your child self-feed
- it works for you and your family
- you educate yourself on how to safely offer foods to your baby
How to Start Introducing Solids to Baby – Purees
If you have chosen to start solids with your baby using the spoon-feeding method here are some tips to get you started:
- Introduce single-ingredient fruit and vegetable baby foods first
- Wait 3-5 days in between introducing new foods
- Progress through baby food stages as your baby gets older
- Start to offer foods with texture by 9 months of age
What About Infant Rice Cereal?
I recommend avoiding infant rice cereal because it’s full of empty calories. Which means it’s not rich in nutritional quality.
Many moms chose to feed infant cereal because it is fortified with iron. My recommendation instead is to offer your baby foods that are high in iron – like spinach, broccoli, beans, and meat.
There are two benefits to choosing iron-rich foods over iron-fortified rice cereal:
- Your baby will absorb more iron from the natural source – food, rather than the synthetic version added to infant rice cereal.
- Foods that are high in iron also provide many other nutritional benefits to your baby unlike rice cereal.
If you do chose to feed your baby iron-fortified rice cereal:
- Mix with breastmilk or formula – NOT water!
- Mix in pureed fruits or veggies for added nutritional value
- Do NOT add rice ceral to the bottle – serve from a spoon.
What Purees Should I Offer To My Baby First:
There aren’t specific purees that you have to stick to. You will want to offer only single-ingredient purees at first. Here is a list of purees that tend to be easiest on your baby’s belly:
- sweet potato
- butternut squash
- green bean
When buying baby food at the store look for baby foods labeled as “Stage 1” or “Supported-Sitter.”
Why Do You Space New Foods Out By 3-5 Days?
It is common for your baby to have a negative reaction to certain foods when starting to introduce solids to them. By negative reaction, I don’t mean an allergic reaction. There may just be some foods that cause your baby to be gassy, constipated, etc.
By spacing out introducing those new foods, if they do develop a negative reaction you will be able to pinpoint exactly what food it is and then hold off on feeding that food for a bit. Don’t count that food out forever. Just maybe try again in a month or two once your baby’s digestive system is a bit more developed.
Making Your Own Baby Food at Home
Making your own baby food at home is a great choice if you have the time to devote to it, you make sure you are making age-appropriate purees, and you follow food safety guidelines.
First things first, you want to choose fresh fruits and vegetables to make your own purees with. You can use canned or frozen fruits and veggies, but make sure they have no added sugar, salt, or syrups.
To make your own baby food:
- Boil or bake the fruit or veggie you wish to use.
- Puree the fruit or veggie in a blender, food processor, or baby food blender.
- Add breastmilk or formula to thin and smooth out the puree to an age-appropriate consistency. Here is a great guide to baby food textures.
- You can add spices and herbs (in small amounts) to your homemade baby food to give it a bit of flavor. NO salt OR sugar. If you are using a spice blend, double-check to ensure it doesn’t contain sugar or salt.
- Add the homemade puree to an ice cube tray and pop it in the freezer. When baby food is frozen pop the cubes out and throw them into a freezer bag. Label the bag with the date (I found it helpful to also label what kind of baby food it was). Throw it back in the freezer.
Your homemade baby food will stay good in the refrigerator for about 3-4 days if stored in an air-tight container. They will stay good in the freezer for 1 month.
How To Introduce Solids To Your Baby – BLW
There is no exact method to follow when you start baby-led weaning. That’s one of the beauties of it! You serve foods to your baby that you are making for yourself.
When you start out you will want to just offer one new food at a time. For example, if you make chicken breast, quinoa, and roasted sweet potato for dinner you could offer your baby some of the sweet potato!
Some general tips to keep in mind when preparing and serving food to your baby who’s just starting to self-feed:
- Foods should be soft enough for you to smash between two of your fingers
- Offer foods in long strips or spears – about the size of your index finger so they are easy for them to pick up and bring to their mouth
- Space out new foods by 3-5 days
- Gagging is normal and will happen alot
- If a large chunk of food breaks off into your baby’s mouth allow them the chance to push it back out with their tongue before you intervene – you can even show them how by sticking our your tounge
What to Avoid When Introducing Solids to Baby
There are some foods and general rules you will want to avoid when introducing your baby to solid foods.
The most obvious is to avoid choking hazards. When your baby is eating all pureed foods just keep in mind that extra thick rice cereal or baby oatmeal is considered a choking hazard. If you are making your own baby food make sure you are thinning the baby food out with breastmilk or formula.
Once your baby starts to eat more table foods closer to 8 months old or so (or if you are following a baby-led weaning method of introducing solids) then make sure you educate yourself on what foods are considered choking hazards. Here is a great resource.
Adding Cereal or Baby Food to Bottle
Don’t add baby cereal or baby food to the bottle. There is a general theory where parents believe if they add it to the bottle then your baby will sleep longer or better. This isn’t true for most babies and you end up just adding extra unnecessary calories from carbohydrates into your baby’s diet.
All baby foods (rice cereal, baby oatmeal, fruit, and veggie purees) should be spoon-fed to your baby.
Adding Salt or Sugar to Baby Food
Baby’s kidneys are not developed enough to be able to process and filter out sugar and salt like our kidneys can. Therefore, avoid adding any salt or sugar to your baby’s food. Spices and herbs are okay to add in small amounts for flavor. Here is a great article to read if you are interested in adding spices/herbs or need ideas.
I often make mashed sweet potatoes or regular potatoes with dinner (I either add brown sugar or salt), so I would just scoop out my little guy’s portion before adding any seasoning. I also would thin out his portion with breastmilk or formula before he could eat the mashed potatoes at the consistency that we do!
Introducing Foods Based On Your Likes/Dislikes
This is actually really common across parents! They tend to buy foods (or make foods) they find appetizing. But it is important for your child to try everything and develop their own likes and dislikes.
I hate prunes and dates, but they ended up being one of my little guy’s favorite things to eat (super helpful when he was constipated)! So make sure you are introducing all kinds of foods and flavors for them to try.
If you find your baby isn’t the biggest fan of a certain fruit or vegetable don’t permanently count that fruit or vegetable out forever. Keep introducing it over time – maybe every month or so. They may just not be feeling it at the time.
Let’s Wrap It Up
Introducing solids to your baby can be scary and uncertain, especially for first-time parents. Hopefully, the above information will help guide you through this journey of introducing new tastes, textures, and foods to your baby.