1. There’s so much conflicting advice on the internet about when to start solids, what do you advise for overwhelmed moms out there? Start slowly, later on? Or quickly, quite early? Or is there a happy medium?
The general recommendation for starting solids is between 4 and 6 months (make sure it is after 17 weeks as the babies digestive system isn’t ready for solids before then). Every baby is different so it’s really important that you start solids when YOUR baby shows signs of readiness. This happens as early as 4months for some babies and some at 6months.
These readiness signs include:
Baby holds up their head on their own, (strong neck)
Baby can sit well without support
Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (automatically pushes solids out of his mouth with his tongue.)
Baby is mimicking you when you eat, moving tongue and lips.
Baby is developing a “pincer” grasp (tries to picks up food or small objects between thumb and forefinger)
Baby is watching/tracking your food with their eyes during mealtime and may try to grab your food.
Starting solids doesn’t mean your baby will start sleeping through. It can happen for the rare few unicorn babies out there but starting solids for this reason will more often than not leave you feeling duped.
2. What’s the best food to start on?
The best food to start your baby on is anything smooth. Perhaps a smooth porridge or ground oats which you can mix into a bowl with breast milk or formula to slowly introduce solids. After 2-4 weeks of getting accustomed to this new chapter the next step is to move to a single ingredient vegetable. The most common is butternut, sweet potato, carrot etc. This is purely for the reason that when steamed and puréed it makes a silky paste that is easy to swallow and is gently digested by the young tummy. Avocado is also a great texture to consider and doesn’t require cooking. Once your baby has mastered this swallowing technique, you can slowly start adding more ingredients and textures into the mix. Babies should not be consuming and salt/sugar/honey before 12 months old. Keeping food as close to what the ingredient naturally tastes like is key. This doesn’t mean food has to be bland. Herbs, spices, pulses and grains in moderation are great to add to their food for flavour and texture. Adding these also reinforce familiar flavour profiles to what your baby will be eating with the family later on so don’t be scared to add in a pinch of coriander, cumin or cinnamon when you’re cooking.
It’s important to not rush the smooth to textured transition phase or force feed your baby because it could end up in aversions to certain foods or sensitivities to textures. Let them guide you.
3. What should I do if my baby gets an allergic reaction to fish/ eggs/ nuts?
Reactions can present themselves many ways such as skin rashes, hives, nasal congestion, and vomiting or other digestive problems. Rarely the allergy can cause anaphylaxis but in all cases, it’s best to consult with your medical doctor and avoid these foods going forward. In most cases your baby will outgrow their allergy but it must be closely monitored.
4. What are the benefits of starting solids if I’m exclusively breastfeeding? Surely my babe is getting everything she need?
Whether your baby is exclusively breast fed or formula feeding, starting solids is an imperative part of their development. Think of it as teaching your baby to swallow and chew, rather than a nutritional milestone. Learning to use their tongues from 4-6months old will help their eating habits and speech development in a positive way in the months to follow. Initially the small amount of solids your baby is getting will not impact the goodness they are getting from their milk. It’s more for fun and practice of a skill, rather than for nutrition. I would say that once your baby starts have a more substantial solids diet, it then becomes about balance and making sure your baby is getting all the food groups in their meals.
5. Can you recommend a comprehensive book/ guide for mama’s to follow?
The best advice I can give about introducing solids is to follow your gut, what feels right? Some moms choose to start with veggies, some with fruit, some with porridge and purées and others choose baby led weaning. Most moms these days start off with the smooth purées and oats and start introducing lots of finger foods once their baby has perfected swallowing their food.
I found it exceptionally difficult to follow any one particular guide or opinion and have developed my starting solids approach by seeking advice from pediatric doctors, nurses, experienced moms, dieticians and from personal experience.