Having a new baby is one of the most joyous, exciting, and awe-inspiring moments of a parent’s life. We can all agree that the sleepless nights, self-doubt, and nerve-wracking confusion are well worth it when our babies surprise us with a first; smile, laugh, blow-out, word, step, and every other adorable thing they do!
Another exciting, but seemingly scary first for many new parents is baby’s first time eating solid food. Some moms jump right in and can’t wait to share their meals with their kids, while others wait as long as possible as the pressure of offering 3 healthy meals and snacks is overwhelming.
We are here to give you confidence with some easy first foods to offer. Whether you want to practice baby-led weaning or start with purees, it’s important to start them off with a healthy relationship with nutritious foods.
What is baby-led weaning?
Many moms now are choosing to practice baby-led weaning, a new feeding style in which babies are not given purees as first foods, but moms wait until the baby has a pincer grasp (around 6-7 months) and is able to start with very small, very soft finger foods. This style of feeding may help baby with hand-eye coordination, enable them to have more control over how much they consume during meal times, and prepare them for a wider variety of textures
Tips to get started:
- Do not offer ANY solids at all, rice cereal in the bottle included, before 6 months. Research has shown that giving babies any solids (rice cereal included) before they turn 6 months old makes them more susceptible to stomach issues later in life. (http://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/delay-solids/)
- Wait until baby can sit up and hold their head up unassisted before introducing any foods, even if baby is already 6 months old.
- Mix their first few meals with what they’ve been having their whole lives- breast milk or formula. A bit of smashed avocado with breast milk is usually a favorite!
- Introduce new foods one at a time, giving 5-7 days before introducing the next new food to be able to detect allergies.
- You don’t need to buy any fancy equipment or special appliances, especially if you practice baby led weaning. Simply steaming and mashing soft foods with a fork is sufficient and will allow baby to explore different textures with their mouths without cluttering your counters and cabinets.
- Start with veggies so babies can get used to their complex flavors before offering more sweet fruits on a regular basis.
- Don’t get discouraged if baby makes a face or is uninterested in a food at first, continue offering it without forcing it on baby. It can take up to 12-15 times of trying a food to determine if they enjoy it or not.
- Include baby in meal times by preparing them the same vegetables you are enjoying, in a more softened, size-appropriate version.
- Learn the difference between choking and gagging (a choking baby is usually silent and looks terrified, a gagging baby is able to make noises to clear their throat)
- Try to be consistent with meal times as babies love routines.
Try to avoid:
- The top 8 allergen foods as first foods- eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. These can be introduced very slowly, one-at-a-time once baby has mastered eating.
- Not offering a food after just trying once or twice because baby didn’t love it at first bite; babies change their minds regularly and may love a food one day and want nothing to do with it the next, then love it again two days later. If we don’t continue offering, we will never give them the opportunity to figure it out.
- Having baby eat all of their food very fast. Give them the time they need to enjoy the new tastes, textures, and colors, instead of shoveling spoonfuls or pieces into their mouths.
- Serving the baby large portions and trying to have them finish all of the food. Start with 1-2 teaspoons at a time and go from there.
- Getting upset about a mess. Baby is bound to want to rub this new fun stuff into their hair, skin, high chair, and all over you! They are trying to learn more about the food this way. Having them wear a special shirt or smock during meal times will help minimize damage to clothes.
- Fear of texture! Many moms and caregivers are fearful of baby choking, so they only offer purees until the baby is closer to 1 year. Babies love feeling new textures in their mouths, so offering soft fruits and vegetables initially will be a thrill for baby. Some to try may be: avocado, banana, or the insides of tomatoes. With harder vegetables, you can feel free to offer them very well steamed, such as: broccoli, peas (peeled), lentils, cauliflower, and butternut squash.
- Showing baby you are scared, if you are, while they eat. Babies are very intuitive and will sense your uneasiness and will associate that feeling with the yummy food you have prepared for them.
I personally have done baby led weaning, and loved it! My daughter enjoys a wide variety of textures, flavors, and vegetables. Her first introduction to smashed avocado and breast milk was a hit and avocado continues to be one of her very favorite foods at 15 months. A week later we tried very steamed carrots, the next week steamed squash, and then continued to add in more foods from there. We started giving her grains, including brown rice, and oatmeal around 10 or 11 months, once she had the hang of eating. It is completely fine to skip the baby rice cereals all-together as they are highly processed and have very little nutritional value. A recent FDA update actually suggested to limit the amount of rice and rice cereals, given to babies and not exclusively give them as a solid as they can be contaminated with a poison called arsenic.
Whichever feeding method you choose, enjoy these exciting times watching your baby explore a new and exciting world of nutrition!
Written by: Dahlia Marin, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist