What to do for an easy and smooth transition from milk to solid food
From newborn to infant to toddler, your baby changes so much in the first few years of life. Once it seems like you've mastered one stage, it's onto the next! Just when you think you’ve got breastfeeding down to a science with your child, it’s time to introduce solid food.
Introducing solid food is exciting, but many parents feel nervous or apprehensive about this change and how it might affect breastfeeding. Adding solids is sometimes referred to as complementary feeding or weaning, which sounds a bit like phasing out of breastfeeding.
However, starting solid foods doesn’t mean that the end of your breastfeeding journey is near. In fact, breastfeeding is still encouraged until your child's second birthday and beyond.
Starting solid foods is important to your baby's development, and they will still be getting most of their nutrients from your breast milk. Properly introducing solid foods will set your child up for a lifetime of healthy eating. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, it's essential to understand if your baby is ready to start solids.
Identifying Readiness for Solid Foods
The NHS recommends introducing solids to your baby around six months of age. Before this, breast milk should be their single source of nutrition. Waiting until your child is six months old ensures that they are developmentally ready to cope with solid foods and can even help feed themselves.
The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers suggests three signs that your baby is ready for solids (in addition to being at least six months of age):
1. Baby can sit strongly (without being propped) and has good head control.
2. Baby can pick up food and bring it to his mouth confidently.
3. Baby can chew and swallow food. A baby who isn’t ready will push the food back out of his mouth (tongue thrust reflex).
The NHS also shares some signs or behaviours that could be misleading as signs that your baby is ready for solids:
1. Chewing their fists.
2. Waking up in the night (more than usual).
3. Wanting extra milk feeds.
These are all normal things for babies to do and do not indicate that your child is hungry or ready to start solids.
Once you know your baby is ready, it’s time to start serving up some delicious dishes!
How Adding Solid Foods will Affect Breastfeeding
Up until your baby turns one, solids are meant to add texture, enhance hand-eye coordination, and introduce tastes and smells for a future healthy eater (and offer a little extra nutrition as your baby grows).
You must continue to nurse on demand because your breast milk is still your child's primary source of nutrition. On-demand feeding will also keep up your milk supply. Solid foods should never replace a nursing session (until much later, when you’re ready to wean).
Don’t feel pressured to rush your baby into eating three meals a day like the rest of the family. It’s shown that babies who eat a lot of solids tend to wean earlier than babies who continue to nurse on demand and supplement with solids.
Of course, as your baby gets closer to one year, you'll want to work up to three meals a day gradually. By 12 months old, your baby should be getting no more than 25% of their calories from solid foods. Your baby will always let you know what they need, so follow their cues.
As you increase solids to three meals a day, you can expect your nursing sessions to change. Breastfed babies will adapt their milk consumption as their food intake changes. As they eat more solids, they may nurse for less time or even drop a feed entirely. This is completely normal, and according to the NHS, you can expect about three milk feeds a day once your baby is 10-12 months old and eating three meals a day.
How To Start Serving Solid Foods
Babies have tiny stomachs, so they only need a few teaspoons at a time when they’re first starting solid food. Remember, first foods complement your breast milk; they do not replace or substitute. So, continue breastfeeding your baby according to your regular schedule, so you don't notice a dip in your supply.
Consider offering up solid foods after a late afternoon or early evening feeding, when your milk supply is often at its lowest. Your baby might be hungry and open to trying solid foods around this time.
It’s important to avoid focusing on how much your baby eats. In the beginning, it’s simply about exposing them to new tastes and textures while teaching them how to use their tongue to move the food back and swallow.
Babies are curious creatures, so now is the time to get them used to solid food. Let them hold or touch the food before serving it to them. They might even use their hands to bring the food to their mouths, which is a fantastic developmental milestone!
Show and tell is very effective when teaching babies a new skill. Sit down together as a family at dinnertime and show them how you eat. They will naturally start to mimic you.
Parents often worry about food allergies their children might have.
Previous guidance was to delay introducing highly allergenic foods to prevent food allergies, but there is no evidence to support this claim. Instead, experts recommend that you try to introduce these allergenic foods early to decrease the risk of developing a potential food allergy.
Some of the most common allergenic foods include:
· Peanuts and tree nuts
· Cow milk products
· Crustacean shellfish
The NHS recommends that you introduce one new food at a time and in small amounts so you can spot any allergic reaction.
Be aware of foods that are completely off-limits to babies until they reach one year. Don’t give cow’s milk to an infant until their first birthday because it doesn’t meet their nutritional needs (which is why breastmilk should be the only beverage of choice until then). Honey should also be avoided because it can contain spores that lead to a serious illness called infant botulism.
Stay away from foods that can be choking hazards. As your baby grows and moves on from small bites of pureed foods, it’s important to pay attention to the size and consistency of the food you’re giving them. Raw vegetables, grapes, nuts, and large chunks of meat are the most common choking hazards for babies.
First Foods for Babies
Even if your baby hasn’t sprouted any teeth yet, they can still start eating solid foods without any issues. Aim for food that is healthy, soft, and easy to pick up to offer as their first foods. Cooked vegetables, fruit, and well-done meat or fish are great options.
Grains and cereals are also healthy first foods for your baby, and many baby cereals come fortified with iron, and you can mix in your breast milk instead of water for a familiar taste.
Here are some foods your baby can try:
· Cooked sweet potatoes, squash, or carrots
· Mashed potatoes
· Vegetables like green beans or peas
· Applesauce or cooked apple chunks
· Diced avocado
· Peaches, pears, or apricots (cooked, if needed)
· Chicken (make sure it is well cooked)
This list is not comprehensive; it's simply an idea starter to show you some healthy foods that are easy to serve to your baby.
Keep in mind that these foods are simply a complement to your breast milk. However, you can expect your breastfeeding journey to change as your baby gets older and begins eating more solid foods.
What To Do If Your Baby Refuses Solids
Consistency is key when you're first serving up solid food. Because these tastes and textures are entirely new, it's very normal that they might spit out food or not show interest in eating solids.
If they're upset, put the food away and try again tomorrow. As your baby learns to use their tongue, they will get more efficient and experienced in eating solids. Some babies may refuse solids until 8-9 months (or even longer). So keep your patience and continue trying new foods, flavours, and textures until you find one that your baby likes.
While your baby may not outright refuse solid food, they might do a lot of gagging, especially in the beginning. While this can sound scary, it's a regular part of your child's journey into eating real food. Remind yourself that gagging is not choking to keep your mind at ease.
That first bite of solid food is such an exciting time for you and your baby! Before you know it, your child will be sitting at the dining room table eating meals with the whole family. For now, be patient, and continue to breastfeed on demand to keep your baby growing, happy, and healthy!
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