If you’re a new parent and thinking about introducing solids into your infant’s diet, you might be confused by the conflicting information available about when to introduce solids and what types of foods to introduce.
It does seem that every year guidelines for infant feeding change. When I had my son, the guideline was 6 months. When my friends had their children it was 4 months.
The rising incidence of childhood allergies and more knowledge on the nutritional requirements for infants are the main drivers for the focus on getting the timing right, and including the right type of foods.
When should you introduce solids to your infant?
The world health organisation (WHO) currently recommends breast milk be the sole sustenance for an infant for the first 6 months of life and ongoing whilst ‘complementary feeding’ until 2 years of age (or more if you’re up for it). If you’re wondering why you would breastfeed for that long, I’ve previously written a blog “Why is breastfeeding so good for you and your baby”.
Complementary feeding is essentially solid foods that are incorporated alongside breastfeeding (or formula feeding if you do not breastfeed). Breast milk contributes half or more of their calorie intake up to 12 months of age and solid foods make up the rest.
Every infant develops and behaves differently, so your infant may show signs of wanting solid food earlier than 6 months. Just ensure you don’t introduce solids before 4 months of age. Aim to introduce solids at 6 months or as close to 6 months of age as possible.
Signs that your infant is ready for some food include things like:
- Showing an interest in what you are eating
- Reaching out for your food
- They no longer have the tongue–thrust reflex. This is where their tongue pushes out food instinctively (a reflex)
- Has good head and neck control
- Will open their mouths when you present them with food
What should first foods consist of?
Basically introduce a wide variety of foods. Starting with pureed and mashed foods, changing the consistency gradually as your infant develops chewing skills. Always include lots of vegetables.
In the past, foods were introduced one by one, however, it is now recommended to introduce a variety of foods mixed together, including allergenic foods such as eggs, smooth nut pastes, grains etc. However, if you have a family history of allergies you can introduce one food at a time, wait 3 days and try another food. That way, if there is a reaction you will be able to identify the culprit.
If you have concerns about possible food allergies, consult your healthcare practitioner who can provide you with some guidance.
It is important to include iron rich foods as your infant is no longer getting enough from your breast milk or formula. You could include some fortified rice cereals, vegetables rich in iron (green leafy vegetables, broccoli etc), tofu, pureed meat etc. Make sure you provide safe foods that aren’t choking hazards so no whole nuts, chopped raw apple or carrots etc.
Remember, solid foods are complementary to breastfeeding or formula feeding and therefore do not need to make up the majority of your infant’s calorie intake. So don’t be worried if you’re little one doesn’t eat, or eats very little. Whilst it can be frustrating, forcing your infant to eat has the potential to set up negative relationships for your child and the way they see food. It needs to be a positive experience so they build positive associations with good healthy food.
Don’t be in a rush to introduce food too early. It really just adds one more thing for you to do. Those first 6 months are a breeze when it’s just breast milk or bottles. Once you start solids it is easy to become a short order cook trying to find food your infant will actually eat! I don’t want to put a dampener on it for you, it is another great milestone and watching your infant eat food for the first time is great, just ensure you wait for the cues that your infant is ready. It will happen and when it does your kitchen and your clothes will forever be transformed 🙂
Have you got concerns about your infant’s health?
It is common for parents to be worried that something is wrong when their infant doesn’t eat. However, provided they are still taking breastmilk or formula and putting on weight, the chances are they’re fine.