Your baby is turning 6 months soon, has great head control, and you’re thinking about introducing solid food. Questions start flowing in like: When should you start, what food should you start feeding and how much. It is always good to know that your baby’s consumption isn’t the most important thing when you first start weaning. This is because they will still get most of their food and nutrients from breast milk or formula.
Why wait until 6 months to introduce solids?
Experts recommend waiting until 6 months before introducing solid foods because this will give your baby’s digestive system time to develop fully. Another reason for this is so that infants can continue to benefit from their mother’s breast milk which will protect them against illnesses and infections. Moms who choose to formula feed also do not need to feel the rush to wean because infant formulas are also sufficient until babies are around 6 months old.
You will also want to wait until they:
- can sit unassisted
- have stronger neck muscles so that they can hold their head up
- have better eye-to-hand coordination so that they can see their food, pick it up and self-feed.
- no longer push food out with their tongue.
Understand that although your baby has been swallowing breast milk or formula from birth, this does not always mean that transitioning from liquid to solid food would be a smooth one. As for parents with premature babies, it is best to seek advice from their paediatrician on when to start introducing solid foods. Remember that every baby develops at a different rate, so be patient and continue taking cues from your baby.
You might hear suggestions to add a tiny bit of infant cereal to “tie them over” or good-natured advice to start weaning earlier. Take these well-meaning suggestions with a pinch of salt and know that these are common behaviours of a normal baby that can be mistaken as hunger cues or readiness to begin solid food.
Here are some of the signs that can be misunderstood:
- babies chewing on their fists
- babies who wake up more often than usual for night feeds
- babies who want extra feeds during the day
It is still best to wait for the 6-month mark and to continue offering milk even if your baby may be going through a growth spurt. Besides, starting solid foods earlier than needed will not make your baby any more likely to sleep through the night.
What should you be feeding your baby?
Some parents prefer to start by offering cereal with milk, while others prefer purees.
There are plenty of reasons why parents tend to reach for baby cereals. First of all, they are readily available and convenient. A baby’s first cereal is always made with low-allergen food, formulated to be easy on tummies, and fortified with iron which newborns need to thrive. Parents also can choose from a wide range of products like single-grain to multi-grain and organic infant cereals.
Your baby can also benefit from homemade purees made with food rich in iron and other nutrients if that is what you prefer. The critical thing is to offer a variety because this will provide your little one with key nutrients and help diversify your baby’s palate.
It is recommended that you start with food that is least likely to cause an allergic reaction. Experts suggest waiting 2-3 days after introducing a particular food so that parents can monitor any possible allergies. Avoid feeding your baby sugar and salt as salty food is not good for their tiny kidneys, and sugar is the leading cause of unhealthy weight gain and tooth decay.
Whatever your decision, be it fortified cereal or puree, start small by introducing it in small amounts. They will likely only eat a scant amount, while most of it will end up all over their face and tiny hands.
Depending on what’s on the menu and its texture, it would be your baby’s first time experiencing the feeling of having food moving around in their mouth. Your baby will slowly learn to use their tongues to move food around and eventually swallow it with practice.
Remember that the goal here is not to get them to finish the whole bowl but to get them used to new tastes and textures of food. There’s no need to rush them to consume more solid food because they will still be fairly dependent on breast milk or formula.
Safety precautions and food hygiene
Always take extra care when preparing food for your baby so that you can eliminate the chance of contamination and not put them at risk.
- Always prepare food with clean hands and clean utensils.
- Test the temperature of the food before giving it to your baby.
- When offering homemade puree, be sure to mash whole foods to avoid them becoming a choking hazard.
- Remove hard seeds from fruits and bones from meat or fish.
- Cut small round food like grapes and cherry tomatoes into smaller pieces.
More importantly, you should never leave your baby unattended when they are eating. Your baby could gag when they first start eating solid food, and occasional gagging is okay because they are still getting used to different food textures and swallowing solid food.
You should always stay with your baby when they’re eating if they start to choke. Choking is very different from gagging and can put your baby in real danger.
This is because they’re learning how to deal with solid foods and regulate the amount of food they can manage to chew and swallow at one time.
Setting up yourself for success
Before starting, you will need:
- A high chair with a fitted safety harness to help secure your baby to sit safely in an upright position.
- A bib because it is going to get messy.
- Baby spoons are great, but soft weaning spoons are gentler.
- Get a small plastic bowl with a suction base to keep the bowl in place, especially if you intend to let your baby self feed later.
- Their first sippy cup.
Other optional items include:
- A mat or newspapers to keep the mess to a minimum.
- Freezer containers and ice cube trays if you decide to cook baby food in batches and freeze in small portions.
And when the big day comes, be patient, give it time. Don’t compare your little bubs to other babies because eating is a skill, and every baby develops at a unique pace. Some babies may be able to handle different food and textures faster than others, and some might need a little more time.
Do not be disheartened if your baby seems to be rejecting every meal and keep trying. It usually takes several rounds, praises and reassurance before they decide; hey, this is not so bad after all. Hence, there is no reason to stop offering a variety of foods, as it will take more than one try for your baby to get used to its flavours and textures.
Continue to take cues from your baby and allow them to dictate when they would like more or when they are done. An open mouth usually means more, but stop offering more food if they are tight-lipped or are starting to turn their heads away. Do not force them to eat if they are no longer interested.
It is OK if you want to monitor how much your baby is eating, but know that there will be days when they would eat a lot, a little or not at all. This is perfectly normal; just continue to offer encouragement and praises.
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