Honestly, I quite enjoy this patch of parenthood but it’s not uncommon for parents to be a touch anxious about the process – there's so much information (and opinions out there!) it can get all a bit overwhelming and parents aren’t quite sure where to start.
My advice – have fun with it, don’t overthink it too much and experiment a little!
Here are the key tips that I often share
- Most guidelines now recommend starting solids around 6 months, no sooner than 4 months. Whilst the WHO advocates for exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months, newer guidelines recommend starting solids when the infant is ready to reduce the risk of food allergies. Like many things in medicine – there is no single right answer here. Every infant is ready at different times and you need to look for signs of readiness in your infant. Good head control, an interest in food, spontaneous mouth opening to a spoon are just some signs your infant might be ready to start the solids journey. Every infant will be ready at different times – so don’t try and keep up with the parents (and babies) around you!
- One of the main aims of starting solids is to introduce iron-rich foods into the diet to prevent iron deficiency. Iron-rich foods include meat sources such as lamb, chicken, fish and vegetable sources such as spinach. There are many ways you can get iron into your child’s diet – baby rice cereals are an option as are the foods I’ve mentioned above.
- Start low and go slow – try things slowly, introduce things one at a time. If your child likes it, tolerates it without issue then start mixing it up and introducing new things. You may start with pureed lamb and broccoli and if this is tolerated try other pureed mixes such as lamb, broccoli, tomato and pasta. Initially, infants will only eat a teaspoon of food – don’t panic, over time they slowly increase their intake.
- Starting solids should supplement breast or bottle feeding – just because solids start doesn’t mean the milk goes!
- You don’t have to follow rigid rules when it comes to starting solids – people will spout all sorts of stuff –you can start with baby rice cereal or mashed avocado – there is no one way to do this. If you choose to do baby-led weaning (which is also an option many parents love) please read as much as you can beforehand to reduce the risk of choking. There are recommendations about the consistency and size of the food that should be offered to infants (around 6 months with baby-led weaning and not sooner) to reduce risk of choking.
- Avoid high choke risk foods such as whole grapes and cherry tomatoes – my daughter loved both of these as an older infant, but the key is to cut them into quarters to ensure they are smaller (and not able to completely occlude the airway if inhaled). And on that note – whole nuts should be completely avoided in infants because of risk of choking.
- When starting solids always ensure the child is supervised – this again, is to reduce choke risk. I say supervised meaning ensure you are around, but you don’t have to spoon-feed the child all the time – let them try to feed themselves as they get older (with their hands or a spoon) and have fun with it. If you can tolerate some mess (this took me some time don’t worry but it’s worth it!) kids can gain a huge amount from feeling foods and feeling textures. Food should be fun and let them have a go at it ensures that!
- Have fun with it – know there is no single right way to do this! There are plenty of resources such as Raising Children Network and the Royal Children’s Hospital handouts that can help and guide you! Good luck!