It’s an exciting day when baby has their first solid meal. I remember putting banana on my son’s high chair tray which he dipped his fingers into and licked off with glee, repeating it until all the banana was gone. My daughter’s experience was a little different; I was holding her while I ate a chicken and bacon wrap, when she leaned over, took a bite, chewed, swallowed and took another bite.
When should the momentous day take place?
Our department of health, in line with the World Health Organisation and most health authorities around the world, such as the National Health Service (NHS) in England, Health Canada, The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) and others recommend baby being exclusively breastfed until 6 months and then solids added to their diet.
In practice, you don’t have to give on the day your baby turns 6 month, but rather watch for signs that baby is ready for something other than milk, which is generally around the middle of the first year (the age range probably about ages 5 – 8 months with most babies being around the 6 month mark and a tiny number at the early and later points).
What signs will my baby give that they are ready?
A young baby only has the digestive enzymes for digesting milk. Around the middle of the first year they start producing other enzymes for digesting other food, and when they’re ready on the inside, they start showing signs on the outside.
Baby can sit up unsupported on your lap or in a high chair (this means they’re less likely to choke). Baby can grab food, bring it to their mouth and suck on it and gum it and swallow it (they may have been gumming food without swallowing for a while already and will have been getting toys into their mouths and even cutlery at meal times too, cutlery is shiny and interesting). Most importantly, the tongue thrust reflex has faded. This is a protective mechanism to prevent anything going down other than liquids. This fades when the sucking pads (fat pads) in baby’s mouth also begin to reduce in size. This gives more space for baby’s tongue to move food to the back of the mouth and swallow it. These signs are usually present around the middle of the first year.
Purées and Baby Led Weaning
Some mothers like to blitz the family meals for baby in the blender and others prefer to let baby sit with everyone and help themselves to what the family is eating. Before blenders babies were fed with the family. Purées were originally made to enable babies to be given solid food before they were ready, by liquefying it and bypassing the tongue thrust reflex. If you prefer purées or like to do some finger food and some purées then, wait till baby is truly ready and stop offering spoonfuls when baby turns their head away.
Babies who breastfeed are used to a variety of tastes because mom’s milk is flavoured by what she eats, so there is no need to offer bland cereal as a starter food. Babies like adults should eat a variety of foods and not just a single food, so although there is nothing wrong with including cereal in baby’s diet (despite some of the scare stories you hear), be sure to include fruit, vegetables, protein and all the various food groups to ensure baby gets all the nutrients they need. Breastmilk continues to be the main source of food for the first year and after that it's nutritional insurance for picky eaters.
Some mothers who formula feed find that as baby is used to each meal tasting the same, that cereal is a good stepping stone and they can start mixing vegetable and fruit in to gently get baby onto a variety of foods.
Baby can be introduced to new foods in fairly quick succession. Also, if your baby has sucked on a strip of chicken breast before they were chewing and swallowing, we now know that this early exposure won’t necessarily trigger allergies. This doesn't mean that babies should be given solids before they’re ready in order to avoid allergies. Solids given before baby is ready can lead to stomach cramps and can mean baby takes in too little of the calorie dense milk they need for the intense growth in the first year of life.
If you are concerned about allergies or your family or your husband’s family are allergy sufferers or baby reacted to something you ate while breastfeeding (they got eczema or a rash and allergy testing showed it was related to your diet and not coincidental), you may find it helpful to see a dietician before starting your baby on solids.
How did your baby enjoy their first solids?