The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Breast milk is the ideal food for the baby and you can read all about breastfeeding here. However, after the first six months of life, only the nutrients in breast milk is not enough to support their fast growth hence we will need to introduce solid food to our baby. In this article, I will explain to you all you need to know about introducing solid food to your baby.
How do you know if your baby is ready for solid food?
They must be able to sit up straight and have the strength to hold their neck by themselves. Are they showing signs that they are interested in your food? Are their curious eyes looking at your food when you are eating or even attempt to grab it? Have they lost the tongue thrust reflex? Then congratulations, yes they are ready.
You don’t have to strictly follow the book’s guideline. If your baby by all means show the above sign before they are six months old, then they are ready and you can opt to start introducing solid food to them.
What do you need to introduce solid food?
First and foremost, a lot of patience and dedication from the parent. Be prepared to be rejected, to clean up all the mess and finally be prepared for lots of joy.
In terms of tools, you will need a bib, food masher, blender, proper baby spoon and food steamer. If you have some extra money to splurge, you can invest in a baby food steamer, otherwise if you don’t just a pot on the stove will work just fine like for us. I think that baby’s food steamer is not necessary if you already own a blender.
TW vs BLW?
You may see this jargon a lot in mommy’s forum. TW stands for traditional weaning while BLW stands for baby led weaning. The traditional weaning starts by introducing smooth purees to your baby, and then progressively moves to thick puree, mashed and finally to finger food. It’s progressive and taking things slow at a time.
Meanwhile baby led weaning means directly eating finger food and joining what the rest of the family is eating at the table. Baby led weaning is gaining a lot of popularity in recent years. Dietitians around the world have been supporting the baby led weaning method with early exposure to various kinds of food, textures and taste. It’s said that baby led weaning improves their hand eye coordination and also helps them to avoid overeating.
Which one is better, TW or BLW?
It truly depends on your baby, down to their preference. I believe in letting my baby make his own choices. Like my baby, he prefers to be fed with a spoon in the beginning. He doesn’t like to hold food with his fingers. and that’s fine. Personally, I am using the mixed approach. I would prepare some puree and some finger food. Eventually, he will let me know when he is ready to eat by himself. Around 10 months old, he started refusing a spoon and wanted to pick the food by his finger and feed himself.
Even though he was fed by spoon since approximately five months old, he has no problem at all picking up his food with his finger and putting it into his mouth. So, don’t worry if you think you must practice baby led weaning to improve their cognitive and coordination skills. Eventually, it’s a skill that will come to them naturally. It’s in their instinct, a basic survival skill. Let your baby make their own choice and follow suit.
How do I introduce solid food?
For traditional weaning:
Start with a very liquid puree of very soft, high liquid content and easily mash-able food. Think leafy greens, avocado, pumpkin, potato, carrot, butternut squash etc. Give them something that’s easy to swallow and not too dry. If you want to know what’s the right consistency of puree for each month, you can purchase pre packaged baby food for that age. That way, you can get an idea of the puree consistency that is best for that particular age.
Remember to take it slow, start with breast milk like consistency and gradually increase the thickness of the puree. Don’t go overboard with fruits as they are very high in sugar content. Baby’s digestive system cannot process sugar or sodium yet at this age. Always prepare the food fresh if you can. Otherwise, you can do a meal prep where you prepare the foods beforehand, then you can freeze them for later use. Personally, I always prepare my baby’s puree fresh to retain the nutrient levels.
It mainly consist only of cutting, steaming and then blending the food in the blender. So at this stage, food preparation for your baby doesn’t take much time.
For baby led weaning:
With baby led weaning, the preparation of the food is easier. You will still need to steam the food to a soft consistency, but you don’t have to blend them or feed them by spoon. The baby should pick up the food on his own and feed himself. With baby led weaning, the way you prepare and cut the food to the baby is very important to avoid choking hazards.
Make sure the food is soft enough that the baby’s gum can easily mash it. Cut the food into thin long strips, and I always ensure it is smaller than my pinky finger. For the very ripe fruit that are very soft, if you want to dice them, make sure it’s smaller than a peanut size. Never serve hard food such as raw carrot or apples. Round food like grapes or nuts are a huge no-no. For the meat, serve the meat in small long strips, and ensure that it is tender and not too dry.
Gagging vs choking
Always stay near your baby and keep monitoring their face expression as they are eating. It’s important for us to pick up immediately if there’s anything wrong as they have yet to fully master the chewing and swallowing part. Learn the difference between gagging and choking. When babies are gagging, it means that they can’t take the texture of the food and it’s a safe reflex that they are trying to get the food out of the throat. Coughing and face turning red when they are gagging is normal. Don’t panic and start hitting their back as this might cause the food to fall back in the airway and cause choking instead.
When the baby is choking, the airway will be blocked and they will make high pitch noise and have difficulty breathing. In some severe cases the baby’s face will turn blue. Always be very vigilant, and keep an eye on your baby. Any choking that occurs can be life threatening, hence prepare the food with a lot of precaution.
What should you pay extra attention to?
Always check your baby’s food temperature before giving them the food. The food must be cooked with high heat thoroughly to ensure all bacteria are killed, however prior to serving it should be cooled down to an acceptable temperature between warm and room temperature. Do not give honey or any food that may contain honey to the baby under one year old as it may cause botulism and it is extremely dangerous to infants. At this age if you need to supplement milk to the baby’s diet, ensure to use baby formula milk. Below one year old, babies could develop an allergy to cow’s milk and also babies are not able to digest cow milk well.
Some books recommend we wait until past one year to introduce peanut and egg white to reduce allergy risk. However, recent study found that the earlier you expose your baby to these foods, the lesser risk they are to develop an allergy. Personally, I introduced both peanut and egg white to my baby before he turned one year old. And he loved it. Again, this differs from baby to baby. Like I always say, every baby is different.
Keep a baby food record
Don’t forget the three days rules for a single ingredient food. For the first six months, it is more of a discovery journey with your baby. You are introducing new food, texture and taste to your baby meanwhile for you, you are discovering if your baby is fine or not fine with each food. Hence, always remember when you introduce a new food, feed the same food for three days and do not introduce any new food in between. The reason is you want to check if your baby has any reaction or allergy to the particular food. You want to be able to pinpoint which food specifically caused a reaction. A simple food record will do. You can find the printable version here.
Sometimes, there are foods that your baby may show an adverse reaction to. In that case, wait for a few more months to try it again. For example, when I first introduced spinach to my baby at about six months of age he did not take it well. He tends to be gassy and have an upset stomach after that. He hated the taste and texture as well. However, at around ten months when I re-introduce him to spinach, he loved it and did not have any adverse reaction.
Stay calm and enjoy this new journey of solid food discovery with your baby
Be mentally prepared when you are introducing solid food to your baby. You are going to change and shower your baby several times a day. There will be mess all over the dining table, high chair and floor. Your baby might reject it and not want to eat the food that you spent hours preparing. They might throw the food on the ground or even at your face. But that’s okay. You only go through this phase with them once. If you have yet to prepare a high chair for feeding, read all about the high chairs for feeding here. Personally, I highly recommend the Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair for baby.
So stay calm and keep positive. Don’t give up. It can be tough but this is a part of your baby’s journey to self independence. As they keep growing, they will be able to eat by themselves with proper tools and eventually eat the very same food the rest of the family is having.
There’s truly no words that can describe the contentment when you see your little one finishing up the food you made. Thanks to the food you made with lots of love, your baby is growing well. Hang in there, mama.
Parenting pain: When I just changed the strap of his high chair to a clean one and it got smeared again immediately with food. Breathe. Take a deep breath. Now let’s wash the strap again…. it will pass it will pass it will pass…
Featured image photo credit by Tanaphong Toochinda on Unsplash (2017)