Learn why starting solids for baby, including the timing of first foods, key nutrients and the methods to feed your baby, is critical to setting him up for a healthy future.
When my babies were embarking on first foods, the recommendations for doing so were very different.
At the time, the recommended time frame was earlier. There were strict warnings about foods that could cause allergic reaction. And the method for feeding was using the spoon.
Most of the information was siphoned through the pediatrician because the internet was non-existent.
Today, though, you have myriad resources.
From the world wide web and books, to doctors and dietitians, the information you need to introduce solids successfully is out there.
But, it can be confusing.
Why Feeding Babies Solids is an Important Step
Starting complementary foods is an enormously important stage in your baby’s first year of life. It sets the stage for future flavor preferences, appetite regulation, nutritional status, healthy growth and development, feeding skills, and more.
First Foods Help Baby Develop Food Preferences
Flavor preferences are started in the uterus, as amniotic fluid contains flavors from your pregnancy diet.
If you breastfeed your baby, your diet and the flavors it contains get passed to your baby through breastmilk.
Starting solids for baby is the next stage of flavor introduction, continuing the evolution of your baby’s palate.
Baby Solid Food Teaches Appetite Regulation
Additionally, your baby learns a lot about his appetite and how to regulate it through the feeding experience, too.
The approach and style you use for feeding your baby influences how well your baby learns to regulate his eating.
Being a responsive feeder sets your baby up for a secure sense of self and a good sense of eating regulation.
Nutrients in First Foods for Baby Help Growth and Development
The nutrients your baby receives throughout the first two years of life helps your baby develop a healthy body and brain.
In fact, we’re learning that nutrients and nutrition are keys to future intelligence, immunity, and overall health.
Learning to Eat is a Skill Baby Must Learn
Learning to eat solid food is an important skill that supports language development, food preferences, and a healthy relationship with food.
There’s a lot going on when embarking on this important stage with your baby!
As such, it’s critical for you to understand the goals of feeding infants and be comfortable with the responsibility.
When to Introduce Solids
Most babies are ready to start solids at 6 months. However, it’s important to note that some babies will show signs of readiness earlier, and some later.
It’s important to recognize your baby’s signs of readiness and follow his lead.
Much research has described the benefits of waiting until 6 months, including a lower risk for obesity and food allergies, for example.
Other research has described the downsides of waiting too long to start, including feeding problems and language delays.
It’s important to get the timing right, and although we have many organizations that recommend when to get started, only your baby can tell you when she’s ready.
First Foods for Baby: Nutrients and Allergens
Selecting first foods for your baby takes some consideration and knowledge, especially with the key nutrients iron, zinc, omega-3 fats, protein and more.
Do you begin with avocado, sweet potato and banana?
Some parents do, and this concerns me, because there is no robust source of iron in any of these foods.
Other parents may shy away from nut butters or fish in the first year. Another mistake!
Babies need to be exposed to these foods to help them build a defense against them as an allergen, while also getting the high quality fats these foods offer.
There are key nutrients that are incredibly important for your baby in the first year—for both brain and body– and you need to understand what they are, and how to get them from food.
Feeding Methods To Consider When Starting Solids
Today, there is so much opinion on which method to use to feed your baby.
Do you go with the old method of spoon-feeding?
Do you venture into the new and popular Baby Led Weaning (BLW)? Or do you mix it up?
To me, it doesn’t matter which method you use. In fact, I am not convinced it’s the method that matters.
I think it has more to do with knowing your baby, knowing his nutritional needs, and determining how you will deliver those in the most nurturing, responsive way.
In other words, you can be successful with the spoon, baby-led weaning or combining both spoon and self-feeding methods.
However, you won’t be successful if you start with these methods for the wrong reasons: because it’s popular, or because everyone else is doing it.
I’ve seen babies be overfed with the spoon. I’ve seen babies be underfed with self-feeding approaches like baby-led weaning.
The method isn’t bad.
It’s that parents aren’t fully informed of the considerations and safeguards associated with the method they have chosen.
No matter when, how or which path you choose for starting solids, you still need a foundation of information for success.
You’ll need to understand when to start, what your baby needs in terms of nutrients and food, and how to be responsive and nurturing with feeding.
Need More Help Feeding Your Baby?
If you’re feeling a little lost, I’ve got two resources that can help:
The Smart Mom’s Guide to Starting Solids , a book I wrote to help moms like you navigate the important decisions around starting solids.
My co-authored book, Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School, is designed to get parents started and supported throughout childhood with food, feeding and childhood development insight.
This article was originally published in September 2017 | Updated in November 2020.