Summer can be considered the best time to introduce your baby to solids because al fresco means less time spent cleaning the floor! This is the start of a new relationship (with food that is) that will last a lifetime so enjoy!
When you think your baby is ready to start consuming solid foods you can bring it up at your next paediatric check. It’s important to discuss this with your doctor as he or she will be aware of baby’s health history which could impact the introduction of solid foods. Make sure to also highlight your family history of food intolerance, allergy or digestive problems.
Keep in mind that experts worldwide disagree about when the ideal time to start is and also that guidelines have changed quite a bit in the last decades so do your homework to understand current recommendations in the light of your discussion with the pediatrician.
This stage in baby’s life is also commonly referred to as “weaning” as it is the start of a very gradual reduction in the intake of milk being replaced with solid foods bit by bit. During the first twelve months of baby’s life, milk is the most important component in baby’s diet while solid foods as from six months onwards (or when baby is showing signs of readiness) are for exploration at first. Then from twelve months onwards, babies need a variety of good quality solid foods as the main source of nutrition to thrive.
So when’s baby ready to dive in?
You may be in a hurry to start because you heard aunt Betty said, thirty years ago, she gave your cousin soup and cereal already from three months and she’s convinced that made her sleep longer. It is not advisable to start with solid foods before the digestive system is mature enough. Current guidelines (issued in 2001) from the World Health Organisation and adopted by many countries are to start around six months with exclusive breastfeeding up to then. However just like babies crawl, walk and start to speak at different ages, they will be ready to explore solid foods at different ages. The key is to tune into your baby and watch for signs of readiness, then follow your gut instinct to establish when the time is right for your little munchkin to leap into this new world. Conclusions from the position paper on Complementary Feeding issued in 2017 by the Committee on Nutrition at the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) may also be useful for you to help you make an informed decision.
Method of weaning
Consider which method of weaning resonates with your family. You may think pureed foods being spoon-fed to baby is the only option, yet following a baby-led approach by using finger foods (also referred to as Baby-led Weaning) is another avenue for you and baby to explore. It is also possible to combine spoon-fed pureed foods with finger-foods to allow baby to experience the benefits of interacting with finger foods of different textures, shape and tastes at their own pace and within their control.
With baby-led weaning, the approach is to allow baby to set the pace of each meal (just like they do naturally during breastfeeding), and maintain an emphasis on play and exploration rather than on eating, which enables the transition to solid foods to take place unforced and as naturally as possible.
While many Baby-led Weaning forums might say just to give baby whatever you are eating, do take care with the type of food to ensure quality and suitability. Babies also do not need teeth to enjoy finger foods, they learn to bite and chew very well with gums!
Exposing babies to different tastes, texture, colors and smells from the beginning makes for adventurous and less picky eating in the future. Other benefits of baby-led weaning includes helping baby to learn the signs from their body about food, how to safely chew then swallow, the chance to practice lots of hand eye and fine motor skills by learning to grasp food and move it to their mouth. Engaging with food in this manner is also great for gums and teeth and a positive way to start the new relationship with food.
There is good reason to believe that babies are at less risk of choking if they are in control of what goes into their mouth than if they are spoon fed. This is because babies are not capable of intentionally moving food to the back of their throats until after they have developed the ability to chew. And they do not develop the ability to chew until after they have developed the ability to reach out and grab things. It appears that a baby’s general development keeps pace with the development of his ability to manage food in his mouth, and to digest it. A baby who is struggling to get food into his mouth is probably not quite ready to eat it. It is important to resist the temptation to ‘help’ the baby get the piece of finger food in his/her mouth to ensure the transition takes place at a safe pace and keeping the risk of choking to a minimum.
It is very important to follow safety recommendations:
- Never leave baby with food unattended
- Never serve baby food other than in an upright position.
- Ensure the shape of baby’s finger foods are not round like grapes and nuts. Chip-shaped finger foods extending beyond baby’s fist, or with a handle (like broccoli) work well.
- Make sure finger foods are lightly steamed with the exception of avocado and most fruits (apple and pear need to be peeled and lightly steamed). Hard, raw fruits and vegetables pose a choking risk.
Learn the difference between gagging and choking and attend a First Aid Course for babies so you understand what to do in the case of choking.
When to feed
Due to the fact that milk intake is the most important source of nutrition during baby’s first year, many parents find it very useful to let baby finish a full milk-feed and only after around one hour (when some milk digestion has taken place and baby is “peckish” again) to then give a meal of solid food. Meals can be very small in the beginning, a spoonful or so, so do not worry but rather let baby explore at his/her own pace and let baby show you when it’s enough. Of course, you should never force baby to eat or finish a meal as this will be counterproductive. Rather set up the environment and timing so baby is not tired or overstimulated and receptive to exploration and make sure you are relaxed and unhurried as baby is attuned to you and tips important for mealtimes to be positive and relaxed. Let baby show you when he/she is ready for additional meals during the day but keep in mind by the end of the first year, a varied solid food diet with three main meals and snacks in between is your goal.
It is best to introduce foods one by one and to keep a food log so you are able to spot signs and symptoms of allergies or intolerances which can even show up around four days after the new item has been introduced. Therefore, introduce only one new food item not sooner than four days apart. If you have a history of allergies/intolerances and other issues around food discuss with your health care provider what the ideal timing would be.
It is not advisable to give new foods at dinner time as you may miss some signs of potential intolerances/allergies turning up during the night so to rule this out it is suggested to offer new food items in the morning or early afternoon to be on the safe side.
What to feed
Now this is another topic of debate. Your cultural background may also influence how you approach this while all the baby food on the shelves claiming that it’s exactly what your baby need doesn’t make it easier as well. The main guidelines to keep in mind is that you want to choose foods:
- That are organic as far as possible (hormones and pesticides naturally are not beneficial to the developing digestive system).
- Of a large variety (but as discussed above introduced one by one)
- That are easy to digest and supportive of the developing digestive system
- That are nutrient dense
- That are real food
- With a variety of textures and shapes suited to the stage of development of your baby
- Without artificial additives, colourants, added sugars and salts (read ingredient labels).
Keep in mind just because baby food distributors claim certain foods are appropriate at a certain age doesn’t necessarily mean this is the case for your baby. Don’t give up when it seems your baby doesn’t like a certain food. Put it aside for a few weeks and try again later. Babies often change their minds and it can take up to fifteen times for them to accept new tastes. As long as you don’t force it.
(Real) first foods that are generally well tolerated are foods like avocado, sweet potato, ripe banana and butternut squash/pumpkin.
Workshops and resources in Luxembourg
The following workshops and resources may be useful in this new exciting journey ahead!
Luxembourg Ministry of Health
Ligue Medico Sociale
The Ligue Médico-Sociale is a government health organisation providing free support to parents for children aged 0-4. They provide free informational sessions regarding feeding, security at the home, sleeping and baby’s sensory world. The language of the course depends largely on the audience. Quick tip: Go early and request them to do the course in English!
Luxmama Club & ParentPrep asbl
Baby-led Weaning resources
Rapleyweaning.com offers information and resources as well as books on the topic.
You can also join baby-led weaning forums mentioned at the above website or a Facebook group in Luxembourg to get inspiration on finger foods.