Starting your infant on solids is an exciting, yet messy, time in their young lives! Whether your baby is formula-fed or breastfed, solids will provide your child with important nutrients and new, delicious flavors. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting solids between 4-6 months of age, or 6 months of age for exclusively breastfed babies. Not only are solid foods beneficial for your baby’s health, they also allow them to explore movements with their mouth, jaw, and tongue that will assist them with speech and facial expressions later on. It is also important for infants to discover different textures of foods and flavors for their curious palates. There are many options on which foods to start your infant on, and it is important to know about these options prior to initiating solids.
In the United States, pureed foods are the most common form of complementary foods during infancy. They are available commercially, and many parents also decide to prepare the foods themselves. Most of the time, this can be done by cooking and “mashing” or pureeing the foods afterwards with something such a as a fork or a blender. Oftentimes, water, formula, or breastmilk is added to the food prior to blending until the desired consistency is obtained. With this technique, the foods are soft enough to feed the baby with a spoon and is easily swallowed by the infant.
Baby led weaning is another form of introducing solids which is more popular in Europe and becoming more popular here in the United States. This form of feeding involves keeping the foods more whole (rather than pureed) and encourages the baby to feed him or herself by holding the food with their hands and then bringing it up to their mouths on their own. This gives baby the opportunity to learn how to chew, then swallow (in contrast to purees, where baby is primarily swallowing first). Because babies have a stronger gag reflex, parents find that their infants gag more often with this type of feeding.
Some parents do a combination of both purees and baby led weaning. While this can be confusing to some babies, this may be beneficial to provide a wide variety of textures to discover and gives them an opportunity to explore both types of foods.
Regardless of how you decide to introduce to your baby, it is important to remember that solids are meant to be complementary to the child’s diet and is not a replacement for breastmilk or formula. Their main source of nutrition should still be primarily breastmilk or formula until they are closer to one year of age. Speak to your child’s pediatrician for advice on which kind of foods would be best for your child. Have fun, don’t mind the mess too much, and have your camera ready!
Dr. Arcaro is a board-certified general pediatrician in East Windsor, NJ. She has a special interest in breastfeeding and infant nutrition. She loves cooking, reading, and spending time with her husband and 2 young sons.
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