Feeding Baby Chapter 1: when & how to introduce solid foods

There is rarely a more stressful time for parents than that first year of a child’s life. It’s pretty much a given that even the most seasoned parent will question themselves at some point.

Is their growth on track?

Is that poop normal?

Am I feeding them enough?

Why won’t they sleep like my sister’s/neighbor’s/random-person-with-an-opinion’s baby?

And what is UP with that rash??

It’s easy to get discouraged. To feel like you’re failing. One area I (naturally) hear a lot of anxiety about is infant feeding. Probably why you clicked on this post right? But I have a little secret. It’s not rocket science. I mean, it’s really important. Our kiddos develop, both physically AND psychosocially, more rapidly during the first year than any other time in their lives. And good nutrition plays a vital role in that. But don’t stress, you can do it! Here’s how.

When to Start?colin-maynard-231363

So you’ve been chugging right along, finally starting to get the hang of breast or bottle feeding. Then you get to your 4-month well baby visit, and your pediatrician mentions something about starting solids (gasp!)? But slow your roll for a second, I want to suggest that you consider a few things first.

Usually, babies aren’t developmentally or physiologically ready for solids at 4 months. And, they don’t need them from a nutritional standpoint, either. It’s not me saying this. Most major health organization now agree, including:

Human milk and formulas provide all the necessary nutrition for babies 0-6 months of age. And in fact, introducing solids too early can actually displace necessary nutrition during a time of still very rapid growth. Breastmilk provides roughly 22 calories per ounce. Formula, about 20 calories per ounce. An ounce of peas? A measly 12 calories. We don’t want baby filling up on foods that contain sub-optimal levels of energy (calories), protein, and fats. A good resource for comparing the energy value of common first foods can be found on Kellymom, one of my favorite parenting & breastfeeding resources.

Good rule of thumb? Stick with exclusive breast or bottle feeding until 6 months, or until baby is displaying all the signs of readiness.

Signs of readiness

There is no magic about turning six months that makes your baby ready for solids. It’s impossible to know exactly when their digestive tract has matured to the point that it can safely process solid foods. But research indicates that this occurs at some point between 6-8 months of age. Also important is that they can manage the food into their mouths, and safely down the hatch. A few cues to watch for:

  • Your baby can sit up unsupported (i.e. without your help, or the help of a propping device)
  • Your baby makes familiar chewing motions when food enters her mouth (or even if watching YOU chew!)
  • Your baby no longer automatically pushes food out of her mouth (referred to as a tongue-thrust reflex)
  • Your baby is able to pick up pieces of food from a tray and deposit them in her mouth consistently. Initially, this may not be a graceful process, but development of a “pincer” grasp will not be far behind (grasping an object between the thumb, and forefinger)
  • Your baby is very interested in mealtimes, and tries to grab food when given the opportunity

Ready to Eat! How do I start?

Making baby food


The glass bottles at the grocery? Pouches? Make it at home? Is that safe? And what is this now about babies skipping pureed foods??

For some reason, it makes our minds spin with fear of doing something wrong. But deep breath, and remember something. They are still humans (tiny ones!), and basically should be eating what their larger counterparts do. And you absolutely will not mess up so easily.

How Much to Feed Them

Initially, expect to offer only a few teaspoons at a time, 1-2 times per day. And, they may not eat it all. They may not eat any. And guess what? That’s ok!! They are getting all they need from milk or formula. So, be sure not to interfere with a normal feeding.

It’s often best in the early weeks to offer food right after they’ve had their liquid fix. The stomach of an infant is SMALL (despite all those adorable rolls on the exterior!). Even at a year old, the stomach only holds about 200ml. That’s a mere half-cup. So we don’t want the slower-moving solid foods to hang out in this tiny stomach when they should be hungry for milk.

As your baby gets more comfortable with foods, you will find they will start looking for more. I worded that very specifically, to start sending you an important message.

They are in control of what they eat. And we should let them be.

That’s right. Take some weight off, mama. Babies are fantastically good at self-regulating their food intake, as long as we let them. This is why the practice of ‘baby led weaning’ has been growing in popularity. More on that to come. But in general, we need to watch for signs of hunger (reaching for foods, vocalizing interest when they see you with food), and signs of fullness (turning head away or closing their mouth when food is offered, diverting interest to something else). We parents tend to be excellent at watching for hunger, but not so much watching for fullness. So sit back, and let baby guide how much they eat.Mom holding baby in superman outfit

End notes

Coming up in Chapter 2, we will cover the nitty-gritty of WHAT to feed baby. How to meet their needs, and stimulate a lifelong healthy relationship with eating. In the meantime, the two take-home messages today are this. One, you won’t screw up! And two, baby is in control of what they eat.

And, just a teaser on that from a mom of older kids…they always will be in control of what they eat. No matter what you do. So get used to it now 🙂



Photo Credits:

Mom feeding with duck: Photo by Tanaphong Toochinda

Baby with block: Photo by Colin Maynard

Slicing foods for blender: Photo by Jakub Kapusnak

Mom holding “superman” baby: Photo by Valeria Zoncoll

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