Parents are often confused about starting solids with their little ones, and it’s no wonder with all the conflicting information out there! My philosophy for introducing solids (otherwise known as complementary foods) is to follow a “baby led” weaning approach. Keep in mind that there are two very different definitions of “weaning.” In the UK, “weaning” means “adding complementary foods,” whereas in the US it means “giving up breastfeeding.” (I firmly believe both the mother and her baby should continue breastfeeding as long as mutually desired.) If I had my druthers, I would call all of this “Baby Led Feeding” and present an approach that is a combination of the true baby led weaning (handing a six month old a pork-chop or a corn on the cob) and the old school recommendations of starting with only mushy gushy purees.
So when do you start? Your six month old is ready to eat—she is showing developmental signs of being ready to eat like holding her head up on her own, sitting in a high chair, demonstrating interest in what you are eating, and opening her mouth when you bring a spoon to her. But what do you feed her? At six months of age, her iron stores are starting to decrease and this is a great time to try iron rich foods. There is no evidence that shows that babies have to start with rice cereal. The iron in beans, poultry, and meats is actually more bioavailable (meaning that it is more easily absorbed by your body), plus it contains zinc and B12—all needed by your baby.
If you wait until she is ready to eat and mash it up, she will be able to eat it (it’s thought that our ancestors probably pre-chewed meats and fed it to their infants). You also can try organic produce—mashed avocado (a great source of monounsaturated fat), sweet potatoes, banana, steamed mashed carrots, and summer fruits including apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums. It might be surprising, but noodles are a good choice for finger foods. Toss the noodles in a little pesto or olive oil for flavor. Provide some dissolvable crackers or cereals for her to explore, avoiding the sweetened varieties. Let her enjoy the foods, get messy, and feed herself. This is all part of the process.
The following foods are choking hazards for children under 3 years, so avoid these when introducing your baby to foods: grapes, olives, hot dogs, pickles, popcorn, nuts, chewy meats, spoonfuls of peanut butter (peanut butter should be mixed with applesauce, smashed banana or spread thinly on bread/crackers), and hard candy. Cut all round food lengthwise. Of course, make sure that if you have a family history of allergies that you consult your pediatrician about introducing highly allergenic foods (nuts, peanuts, eggs, soy, fish, dairy, wheat, shellfish). And always discuss introducing solid foods with your pediatrician!
To learn more about introducing solids, check out the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics guidelines and this study about meat as a first food.
~ Nicole Meadow, MPN, RD
This post is solely for informational purposes. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for medical advice. Before undertaking any course of treatment or dietary changes, you should seek the advice of your physician or other health care provider.