As a new mum, I wanted to make the best decisions on how and when to introduce my infant to solids. I found myself navigating through an overload of conflicting and out-dated information – for example Parents.com recommend infants avoid citrus due to risk of an allergic reaction, eczema or nasty diaper rash, whereas NSW Government Health recommend giving infants a small whole-orange peeled. What was I to do?!
Recently here at The Nutrition Press, Kate discussed the concept of baby-led weaning. The literature behind this concept is still in its infancy, and it will be an interesting space to watch. In the meantime, you can rely on the following evidence-based guide, put together using information from the World Health Organisation and National Health and Medical Research Council.
How do you identify credible information on the web?
On the internet anyone can pose as an authority, so the information provided risks being inaccurate. Universities such as Harvard or Adelaide University, however, have useful guides to identify the credibility of the information you are reading. These sites specify that the reader can assess an article’s credibility by evaluating who the author of the article is (what are their credentials? Is there even an author?), how accurate and objective the article is (are there references? Can this information be corroborated? Is the language overly emotive?), and how up-to-date the information is. The domains .gov, .edu and .ac can only be registered by government and educational institutions and for this reason, they are preferred as the information is reliable. Using this information, I found the most trustworthy sources to introducing my infant to solid foods to be the World Health Organisation Exclusive Breastfeeding Statement , the National Health and Medical Research Infant Feeding Guidelines, this fact sheet from NSW Health, the Raising Children website and the good old the Australian Dietary Guidelines. I have relied on these sources not only to introduce solids to my son, but to write this very article.
Why should solids be introduced, and when?
As explained to me by Raising Children, the main purpose of introducing solids is to provide needed nutrients, particularly iron. At this age, the iron stores that were supplied to your infant in your womb have been depleted, and in addition iron is also no longer adequately supplied by breast milk or formula alone. Other reasons to introduce solids are to develop teeth and jaw movement important for language development, and to allow your infant to experience new tastes and textures.
According to the World Health Organisation Exclusive Breastfeeding Statement and the National Health and Medical Research Infant Feeding Guidelines, solids should be introduced at around 6 months of age. It’s important to note that solids don’t replace breast milk or formula – breast milk remains an important source of nutrients, immunological support and comfort. If an infant is not breastfed or is partially breastfed, commercial infant formula should be used as an alternative for 12 months. The Infant Feeding Guidelines recommend that breastfeeding be continued for as long as the mother and child desire.
The Infant Feeding Guidelines explain that infants start to show signs that they are ready to begin solids around this age of 6 months. These signs include good head and neck control, sitting upright when supported, showing interest in your own food, and opening their mouth when food on a spoon is offered.
What foods should be introduced first?
The aforementioned NSW Health fact sheet, put together by NSW Health and the Australian Breastfeeding Association, has a fantastic list of the specific foods to first offer to your infant, as well as specific foods to avoid.
Iron-rich foods should be introduced first to address the depleted iron stores as explained earlier. First foods to offer can include minced, stewed or grated meat, poultry and liver; mashed cooked fish; fortified tofu; beans; legumes and fortified infant rice cereal. Good foods to accompany these include cooked vegetables (e.g. carrot, pumpkin); pureed fruit (e.g. apple, pear, melon); cooked egg – NOT raw or runny (yolk and white); nut paste/spread; full fat cheese, custard, yoghurt and rolled oats, bread and pasta.
Foods for your infant to avoid include, but are not limited to, honey (may have bacteria which can cause illness in infants under 12 months), tea (contains substances which may reduced the infant’s ability to absorb some nutrients), fruit juice, caffeinated and sugar-sweetened drinks (they offer no nutritional benefit to infants under 12 months), hard and slippery foods (infants can choke on these), added salt, sugar or other flavourings (can overwhelm your baby’s delicate palate).
For further information please consult the fact sheet. You won’t regret it!
How to Introduce Solids 101 – the Theory
Solids can be introduced in any order and can be mixed together. If allergies are a problem in your family, seek advice from a health professional before commencing solids. Foods such as cow’s milk, nuts, wheat, soy, egg and fish are commonly associated with allergies in babies. There’s no need to delay introduction of these foods after 6 months, however a gap of several days between each new food is recommended to allow for parents to rule out any sensitivities or allergies to particular foods. This also gives time for a baby to identify new tastes and textures.
- Wash hands thoroughly before preparing foods or feeding baby.
- Do not put your baby’s food in your mouth then give it to your baby.
- Check temperature or food before offering to your baby and once the food has be warmed and offered to your baby do not reuse it.
How to Introduce Solids 102 – the Practice
Again, much of this information about actually how to introduce solids comes from my favourite, trusty fact sheet that I have mentioned throughout. They advise to:
- Always remain with your baby while they are eating in case they have difficulty swallowing.
- Choose a time when you and your baby are calm and relaxed. Preferably after a feed of formula or breast milk. This is because your baby will just want the breast milk or formula that they know satisfies their hunger first.
- Offer a variety of pureed, spoon-fed foods as well as finger foods. It is important to increase the texture to mashed and soft pieces over a couple of weeks. Increasing texture helps your baby chew and assists in the development of muscles used later for talking.
- When offering finger foods, make sure your babies hands are washed with warm soapy water first.
- Sit your baby in a high chair and feed them the food on a spoon (preferably a soft bite flexible spoon). Give the baby a spoon to practice with as well. When introducing solids try 1-2 teaspoons and increase to 1-2 tablespoons according to your baby’s appetite.
- Look for signs your baby isn’t interested or no longer hungry, such as; turning head away, losing interest or getting distracted, clamping their mouth shut.
The information presented in this article has been assembled to provide you with an evidence-based approach for introducing your infant to solids. It helped me in taking the important leap of introducing my son to the world of solid foods. For further information consult your doctor, an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, and the links provided.