Over the years I have met a number of parents who have told me that they are unsure if the way they introduced solids was the right way, or they were unsure if their child was ready, or that they had received conflicting advice about when and how to take this very exciting step into a new stage of development for their baby. It is so hard as parents being presented with so many differing opinions from sources that we trust such as family, health professionals and friends and trying to do what is right for our children and our families.

The following is some of the information I have found has helped families over the years:

How do I know when my baby is ready for solids?

There are sometimes medical reasons to start solids early, however, in the majority of cases, waiting until your baby shows you that they are ready will help your baby to develop a positive relationship with food. Signs to look out for that will tell you your baby is ready are include paying lots of attention to what you are eating, grabbing it and putting it in their mouth (although if this is the only sign they are showing you may want to wait a little longer as babies are naturally curious and will often do this before they are ready), loss of the tongue thrust reflex which pushes the food back out of their mouth, being able to sit upright and seeming unsatisfied even after a few days of more frequent feeds. Most babies will show these signs at around 6 months of age, however, every baby is different, and some parents find their baby will show these signs earlier and some a little later, so it’s worth watching for these signs to help decide when to introduce solids rather than going by their age. If your baby is not showing these signs around six months and you are concerned, it may be worth touching base with a feeding therapist for advice.

When should I introduce finger foods?

Some approaches to introducing solids include purees first and others include introducing finger foods straight away. It is important to remember that feeding development like any other skill is a progression and we need to remember to look to our baby for cues. It is also important to remember that not all finger foods are the same. Starting around 7-8 months of age, most babies will develop the ability to move food sideways in their mouth to start chewing foods and they will also be able to start breaking off pieces of meltable solids, so this is a great time to be offering easy to manage soft finger foods, however, small, hard foods should be avoided as these pose choking risk. Increasing and varying food textures is essential for oral motor development. There is research that suggests that infants who have not been given lumpy, textured foods by 10 months of age have greater feeding difficulties at 15 months than babies introduced to these foods at 6-9 months. So whichever approach you choose, make sure you watch your baby for signs that they are ready for these foods and make sure you are introducing foods they are safely managing.

Which foods should I start with?

There is no universal answer to this question, different cultures have different ideas about which foods to start with and as long as a baby’s nutritional needs are being met, there is no one answer that is better than another. The main thing to keep in mind is that at around 6 months, a baby’s requirements for iron and zinc are no longer being met and foods containing these nutrients are advisable.

What about allergies?

Unless there are specific concerns for your baby, there is no need to restrict which foods you introduce to your baby. In fact, there is some evidence that delaying introducing foods may increase the risk of allergy. There is insufficient evidence to support delaying or avoiding allergenic foods such as egg, peanuts, nuts, fish, wheat and cow’s milk. There is also no need for the slow introduction of solid foods, one food at a time. So unless there are particular concerns for your baby, you can introduce a variety of foods, although starting with iron rich foods, such as iron-enriched infant cereals, pureed meat, poultry and fish (all sources of haem iron), or cooked tofu and legumes is recommended.

Are there any foods I shouldn’t give my baby?

There are a few foods that are not appropriate for your baby when starting out. Whole nuts or hard foods should be avoided due to the risk of choking on these. Honey should be avoided under 12 months sue to the risk of botulism. Unmodified milk from animals and fruit juice should not be offered under 12 months. Low fat, or reduced fat, milks should not be given as toddlers need good fats to help them grow. And, finally, foods with high levels of saturated fat, sugar or salt (such as cakes, biscuits, chips and sweets) should be avoided.

When should I give my baby food and how much is enough?

Giving your baby foods at the same time that the rest of the family is eating is a great way to involve them in family mealtimes and allow them to see positive examples of appropriate mealtime behaviours and others eating and enjoying foods. Our babies learn by watching the examples around them and developing their relationship with foods is no different. As to knowing how much is enough, babies are generally more in tune with their body’s needs than we are as adults and by watching their cues carefully, most babies will indicate when they have had enough, perhaps by turning away from the food, not opening their mouth, pushing away the spoon, or showing more interest in playing with the food than eating it. Respecting a baby’s choice to stop eating, or sometimes not eat at all, at a mealtime is important for teaching them to listen to their own body and what it needs.

A quick note on gagging…

Lots of parents get very worried when their baby gags as they are worried they can choke. Knowing the difference between gagging and choking can help you feel more confident in knowing what to look for. Gagging is not the same as choking, gagging is not dangerous and is there to help a baby eject a piece of food that doesn’t feel safe. If they gag on a piece of food, they will typically spit it out and try again. It becomes more dangerous if an adult panics, as this may make the baby also panic and so increase the risk of her choking on the piece of food. Choking is when food gets lodged in the throat and makes a baby unable to breathe. This is life threatening and avoiding foods such as nuts and small hard foods can prevent this. All foods should always be offered under supervision so an adult is nearby to help when needed.

Introducing solids is a very exciting time for both you and your baby and, with a few guidelines to help you make the decision on what is right for you and your baby, you can help your baby to develop a positive relationship with food and become a happy and adventurous eater.

Skye Shute – Speech Pathologist