Written by: Nicky Barker, Founder of Little Ones & Paediatric Sleep Specialist
There is a LOT of research and advice out there about when is the right or best time to start your baby on solids. Its quite a controversial issue! Very recently released information has brought to light that previous feeding recommendations were in fact made based on doctors opinions rather than actual scientific and paediatric studies. The purpose of this blog is to share the information we have researched from reliable health, nutrition and scientific sources in regards to starting solids.The decision to start solids needs to be made by parents in accordance with their baby's needs and medical advice.
Once your baby reaches between 4-6 months of age they may begin to start showing signs of being ready for solid food. The World Health Organisation recommendations are:
“Around the age of 6 months, an infant’s need for energy and nutrients starts to exceed what is provided by milk, and complementary foods are necessary to meet those needs. An infant of this age is also developmentally ready for other foods.”
It is widely recommended by credible health sources (listed at the end of this blog) and in light of recent research into preventing allergies (where 146 studies were all reviewed by researchers) it was concluded that the timing and purpose of introducing solids and common allergens by this age (6 months), is so they’re taking enough food to really gain the nutritional benefit of it as they begin to rely on solid feeds more and more for their growth and development.
If your baby is showing the following signs of being ready for solids, then give them their regular milk feed before each meal. Offer 1 meal per day and gradually increase to 2-3 meals per day according to your baby's appetite. Begin with 1/2 a teaspoon and gradually increase as your baby's appetite grows to a maximum of 1/2 a cup. Babies need 2-3 days of the same food to get used to that food.
Signs of readiness include:
- being able to hold their head up by themselves
- some babies might be sitting, or sitting well in a highchair
- making chewing motions with their mouths
- showing a great interest in what you are eating and may be reaching for your food
- baby opens their mouth readily when you hold a spoon or food against it
Organizations such as www.forbaby.co.nz have some good guidelines as to which foods are best to give your babies and in which order. Usually you’d want to start your baby on something quite bland like apple or pear and pureed to a very smooth consistency. Never add sugar or salt to your baby’s food. Some good first foods are:
Avocado, uncooked and mashed/pureed
Sweet potato, cooked
Stick with one food for a few days before introducing another. If your baby refuses to eat the food offered, try again in a couple of days. It is important not to force the food into your baby’s mouth or you risk them developing a food aversion. Remember, it is all very new to them and it’ll take some getting used to! Often babies will be more receptive to taking food off your finger as it’s familiar and softer on their gums than a spoon.
It is a good idea to stick with fruit and starchy carbs initially, then when your baby is around 6 months old you can introduce protein at lunchtime. Chicken, fish, egg and lentils are great options that are gentle on baby’s tummy. From around 6 months you can also offer water when your baby eats their solids, as they can get thirsty - much like we do when we eat. It might take some time to find a sippy cup/drink bottle that your baby likes to drink from - some popular choices are drink bottles with straws, or soft-teat sippy cups.
Some mum’s choose to do a method called “Baby Led Weaning” with their babies – this is where you offer them food that isn’t pureed with the intention that they can mouth and eat the food when they’re ready. In general, babies who are doing Baby Led Weaning consume less calories earlier on and will need to continue night feeds to compensate. For more information on Baby Led Weaning please see www.babyledweaning.com.
Some facts about milk and solids:
- Milk is still the most important food for a baby up until they’re 8+ months old, so you should always offer a milk feed before solids until they reach this age (our Sleep Programs show you the perfect times to do milk and solids). The solids work like a top-up for your baby, as they get hungrier, rather than replacing actual milk feeds.
- Beyond 8 months solids can be offered before milk feeds and can replace some milk feeds in the day, eg lunch.
- Babies need protein and iron in their diet from 6 months onward. This helps them feel full enough to sleep well at their lunch nap and also overnight. (Breast milk does not contain iron and the iron stores that the baby had from birth are now depleting at 6 months)
- Protein should be given at the lunch meal only until your baby is over 10 months old, when you can introduce it at dinner. The reason for this is that protein at dinner in a baby younger than 10 months can cause night waking as their body tries to digest the protein while they’re lying down and their digestive system has slowed.
Things to remember:
Solids WON’T make your baby sleep through the night straight away - they’ll be taking so small an amount to begin with it will take a while for their solids consumption to increase and have a knock-on effect with their night sleep. If your baby is starting later on solids or doing baby-led weaning you can expect them to still wake in the night for milk feeds until their solids amount increases.
Tanking your baby up on solids at dinnertime won’t help them sleep through the night either, in babies younger than 10 months. They will still need a decent milk feed before going to bed and if they have too many solids they will refuse the milk and might wake in the night needing a milk feed. For babies younger than 10 months, lunch is the most important solids meal of the day.
If your baby is close to 6 months old and you haven't started them on solids, they may start waking more in the night out of genuine hunger (see THISblog). This is a sign they now need solid food and additional protein in their diet.
Once "established" on solids, which means your baby is taking at least half a cup at any particular meal, you can let them dictate how much they'll eat. Don't stop feeding them because YOU feel they've had enough! They'll take as much as they need and are far better at regulating their calorie intake than we are as adults!
Solids can cause constipation in some babies, especially if they are taking a lot of solids very early on - their digestive system needs time to adapt to digesting something other than milk. You should always keep note of when your baby poops and what their poop is like (gross I know!). If your baby is struggling to poop you should reassess what solids you've given them recently and go back to a food that didn't affect their bowels. Pear is a good choice in this instance. Banana and cheese are common causes of constipation in young babies, despite being popular foods. Always talk to your healthcare professional if you are concerned about your baby's bowel movements.
It can be REALLY hard to get it all right! Your baby’s milk vs solids needs change as much as their sleep needs in the first 24 months, so take the guess work out with our Sleep Programs which are designed around the perfect feed times (both milk and solids) for babies at each age.
For baby sleep advice please read Sleeping through the night and NAPS: the art (and importance) of good day sleeps.
*This blog is not intended to be used in place of medical advice by your healthcare professional. Please always seek medical advice if you are concerned about your baby's feeding.