The Switch from Liquid to Solid Food
When and how is it appropriate to start serving solid foods to a baby? Us doulas here in Philadelphia love talking about this fun time! There is a ton of different advice out there which can become foggy and discouraging but your postpartum doula is there to provide helpful information. Not all babies are the same so introducing new foods is not entirely about age. It is more important how each individual baby develops and responds to food.
So what factors show that it is time to switch to solid foods? In the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) book, Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know, there are some very finite guidelines that should be helpful.
First ask, can the baby hold his or her head up? If the baby does not show good head control in a high chair, infant seat, and feeding seat, he or she is not yet ready for solid food.
Next, does the baby open his or her mouth when being fed? Some things to look for are when the baby begins to start watching adults eat, becomes eager for food, or begins to reach for food. The final question is can the baby swallow food? It is not uncommon for the baby to push food out of his or her mouth when fed for the first time. If this happens either dilute the texture and gradually make it thicker or, wait for a couple weeks to try again. Most recommend using solely liquid foods for the first six months. When converting to solids, it is ideal to still continue with liquids. This combination should last twelve months or longer depending on the baby’s preference.
Baby led weaning vs. Pureed baby food
The most common method of introducing solid foods to baby is by introducing pureed or mashed, soft foods. The less popular method is known as "Baby Led Weaning" referring to allowing baby to feed him or her self with small finger foods that they can mash with their teeth or gums and swallow.
Pureed foods will be the focus of this article.
Now that it is more clear as to when to begin to feed solids, the question of how to go about feeding remains. Most mothers begin by feeding only half a spoonful of food at a time and by talking their baby through the process. Say things like, “Yum, open wide” or, “Mmmm, eat up” because encouraging the baby can make a huge difference. Another idea is to give the baby some milk or formula before feeding solids for the first time. This is helpful because it decreases the chances of irritability. Don’t be surprised if the baby wrinkles his or her nose, roles the food around in its mouth, makes a huge mess, or even rejects the food all together. This is very new to him or her so it is important to be patient and to not force it.
When it comes time to feed solids, what should the first foods be? If the baby is mostly breastfed, it would be best to begin with meat because, from ages four to six months more easily absorbed iron and zinc is required. Likewise, talking to a doctor about vitamin D and iron supplements for the first year is not a bad idea. Contrary to popular beliefs, there is no medical evidence that feeding single grain cereals first and vegetables before fruit is beneficial. When feeding cereal for the first time, do not put it in a bottle because that can lead to unnecessary weight gain and choking. Also, all cereal should be made for babies and be iron-fortified.
Some popular starting foods include cereal, vegetables and fruits. When making homemade baby foods steer clear of spinach, beets, green beans, squash, and carrots. These ingredients have a lot of nitrates which can cause anemia (low iron count). On the other hand, sweet potatoes, corn, and peas are suggested for homemade baby foods.
How should a mother go about adding new foods to a baby’s palette? Well, this should be a gradual process. Only one new food should be introduced at a time with two to three days in between each food. If the baby experiences rash, vomiting, or diarrhea after trying a new food, check with a doctor to make sure that it is not an allergic reaction.
After baby food is successfully added to the baby’s diet, it is time to add finger foods. The best way to determine when to add finger foods is to wait to give them until the baby begins to sit up and bring hands to his or her mouth. New finger foods should be cut into small pieces, be soft in texture, and be easy to swallow. Keep in mind that baby foods made for adults are high in sodium and preservatives and should be avoided. Also, all fresh foods, except bananas, need to be cooked and mashed before serving. Some starter finger foods include small pieces of banana, scrambled eggs, well-cooked pasta, well-cooked and cut up squash, peas, and potatoes. The rule of thumb is if the food requires chewing, then the baby is not yet ready. As for how much a baby is being fed, four ounces per meal should be good. If the baby shows signs of fullness do not force him or her to continue eating because that can lead to overfeeding.
So what changes should be expected when switching from liquids to solids? Stools are noted to become more solid, vary in color, have visible undigested food, and to develop a stronger odor. Another common change is that urine may become red when the baby is fed beets. If the stools become watery, full of mucus, or loose, slow down on feeding solid foods and call a doctor.
The switch from liquid to solid foods is one of the first steps from infant to toddler. It can be a very difficult and stressful decision to make. For those that are still unsure, asking a postpartum doula can be the best course of action. This will ensure that the time is right on a case by case basis. Remember, it is a mother’s job to provide the nutrients that her baby needs. Beginning on solid foods incorrectly can be hurtful to the baby so it is important to do the research.