Your little one is getting older, they’re starting to get interested in the world around them. They might seem hungry even after milk. It could be time for starting baby on solid foods!
While this can be daunting, it can also be fun. You’re experimenting with new foods, discovering more of your baby’s personality and watching him develop right in front of you.
There’s a lot to think about – you can’t leap straight in with a steak dinner! Check out our essential baby food tips for how to get started transitioning a baby to food.
1. Get The Timing Right
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the age range to begin transitioning a baby to food is 4-6 months. Always remember that there is no rush; most babies start between five and six months, and certainly don’t start before four.
Getting the timing right is much more important on this end of the spectrum – later is much better than earlier. You can trigger allergies in your baby’s sensitive digestive system if you introduce foods they’re not ready for. Baby’s tongue will actually push out and reject food if it’s introduced too early to protect the system.
All of the baby’s nutritional needs can be met by milk, either breast milk or formula, for at least six months. Forcing food too early can affect their future eating habits as we’ll discover.
However, introducing food too late can be difficult as well. It’s harder to form habits once they’re used to the breast or bottle.
Getting this balance right will depend on you and your baby and when you’re both ready. Transitioning your baby to food by introducing things slowly and phasing out milk is an important part of making the process smooth. Breastmilk or formula in some amount should be on the menu for at least one year.
Again, it will differ for everyone, but consider giving milk first thing in the morning, before or after meals. Experiment with what works. Depending on baby’s appetite, try giving the milk before or after solids so they don’t get too full.
How do you know when your baby is ready?
As well as age, here are some signs to look for:
- Baby sits upright and can hold up their head.
- They are curious about food and what others are eating.
- They’ve lost the tongue-thrust reflex which rejects food and can open their mouth wide.
- Baby still seems hungry after a day’s milk (8-10 breast feedings or 32oz of formula).
You might not see all of these, and you know your baby best. As long as they’re of the right age and physically able to eat, you can give solid food a try.
2. Start a Routine
As well as keeping familiar milk around, starting a baby on solids is about creating a routine. It’s as much about introducing the idea of mealtimes, tastes and textures as nourishing in the early stages.
Here are some ideas to get a routine started:
- Wash their hands (and yours!).
- Soothe them if necessary. A good or calm mood is the best foundation for learning.
- Sit baby in a highchair. It will be difficult and stressful for you both if they sit on your lap and may hamper the process.
- Turn off the TV or loud music so there are no distractions.
Start with one meal a day and move up after a month or two. Pediatricians recommend eventually getting to three meals a day with two or three snacks in between. At this later stage, milk or formula is an addition, not a meal.
3. Watch Your Baby’s Behavior
During this routine-shaping and introductory period, become conscious of your baby’s behavior. Learn to recognize when they are full and don’t force baby when they clench their mouth or turn their head.
Introduce only one new food at a time and don’t over complicate things. This will allow baby to assimilate to plain tastes first.
In these early stages, you should watch out for gas, diarrhea, mucus, vomiting and rashes as they could be signs of allergies. Also look out for a runny nose, watery eyes, wheezing and crankiness.
Tips if baby has a bad reaction to a certain food:
- Wait a week before reintroducing the food.
- If it happens two or three times you can assume they’re sensitive to it.
- Eliminate the food for several months and try again.
- If you see lots of reactions seek medical advice.
The American Association of Pediatricians now says that allergenic foods like peanut butter can be introduced as early in the process as you like and certainly by 11 months. This could reduce the chances of baby developing a lasting allergy. It’s also important to make sure that you’ve introduced other, non-allergenic solids first.
4. Make The Process Gradual
Making the process gradual is will increase your chances of success. Here’s a handy guide:
- 4-6 months: two meals of 2-4 tbsp and 20-28oz of milk or formula every 3-4 hours
- 7-12 months: three meals the size of baby’s fist and 16-24oz of milk or formula every 4-5 hours
As you can see, there’s quite a lot of overlap and the timings and balance will depend on how the process goes for you both.
Getting baby used to a routine is important even if they’re not hungry so that food isn’t a shock when they are. Never force or pressure baby if they’re really not interested. Transitioning a baby to food will take time so have patience. If they reject the food or the spoon just take the food away and try again another day.
Remember, making a mess is (unfortunately!) part of the process. It takes a lot of coordination and baby needs to experiment. You can even put a small amount of food on their highchair or table so that they can discover it on their own terms.
Other tips for feeding include starting with different amounts on the spoon. Move the food further back so that baby gets used to the idea of the spoon in their mouth. The old classics are also still good – try some yourself as an example and look like you’re enjoying it!
5. Prepare The Food Properly
Of course, you and baby can actually enjoy the food. Homemade, natural baby food is great as you know exactly what’s in it. You can control what goes in and out as you phase flavors in. Commercial baby foods can also lose some of their nutrients in the processing to extend shelf life. Here are our tips for making baby food.
When cooking with vegetables and hard fruit, wash, bake, boil and steam them before pureeing. Try and use as little water as possible. Peel them, remove the stones and then puree, grind or blend. Then you can add water, breast milk or formula to get the right consistency.
Stay away from foods that won’t dissolve in the early stages, and only gradually increase the size of chunks and textures. Choking hazards are not to be forgotten about. Watch every bite in the early stages.
Here’s a guide of what to make and when:
- 4-6 months: single-grain cereals fortified with iron. Use one teaspoon with 4-5 teaspoons of breast milk or formula. You can then thicken by varying the amounts.
- 4-8 months: pureed carrots, bananas and chicken. Start with milder yellow and orange vegetables.
- 6-8 months: single-ingredient finger foods but nothing raw or hard like apple. They should be able to mash the food with their hands. If you’re practicing baby-led weaning this is a great place to start.
- 9-12 months: chopped, ground or mashed foods with texture. You can progress to casseroles and soft rice.
Eventually, you’ll be able to feed baby what the rest of the family is having just mashed up.
Tip: remove baby’s portion before seasoning as salt and spices can be too much for their sensitive taste systems. Try cinnamon if you do want to experiment with flavor.
Never give babies honey or cow’s milk before one year old. They can introduce unhealthy bacteria and cause illness.
Baby Food Recipes
Making your own baby food can become part of your feeding routine and be a bonding process. It’s also cheaper and natural. Here are some ideas for how to make your own baby food.
With all the grinding, pureeing and blending you’ll need to do, you might want some specialist equipment. Here are some ideas:
Remember, a fork works fine to mash too!
To get you started, here are some of our favorites for different stages of your starting a baby on solids journey:
- 4-6 months: Banana puree
- 7-9 months: Pumpkin and thyme puree
- 9-12 months: Whitefish, carrot and leek puree
Baby food tips, done!
Transitioning a baby to food is a big change. It represents the beginning of the next stage in a baby’s life and is something they will do forever.
That’s why it’s important to get it right but remember, that’s right for you and your baby. As long as it’s healthy and everyone’s happy, whatever works best for you is best.
How have you found starting a baby on solids?
Share with us in the comments below!