It is so good to start writing again. It is something that always brings me so much joy… that and food.
Talking about food, Nova is on month 2 of starting solids and it is going so incredibly well. I have always found this part of the parenting journey exciting, food is my love language. I have had so many readers ask me about starting solids that I thought it would be helpful to put a comprehensive blog post together. This is part one. Part 2 will be fun baby food combinations and recipes, so keep an eye out for that!
If you have any questions, please pop them into the comment section below.
Before I get started, it is important to note that I am not a medical professional or a qualified dietician. This post consists of all the research I have done and my personal experience throughout my 8-years of being a mom. If you are unsure, you should always consult with a trained medical professional.
Now that is out of the way, let’s start with the most frequently asked questions…
• When Should I Start Introducing Solids?
This will differ from baby to baby, but should never be before they hit the 4-month mark. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and many other health organizations recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed (no cereal, juice or other foods) for the first 6 months of life. That is in an ideal world, but as we all know – not everyone can breastfeed exclusively for that long. There are so many factors that cause mothers to stop breastfeeding, but we will get into that some other time. Anyway, I prefer to follow the below checklist because when it comes to parenting, the conflicting information just never ends.
Here are a few signs that will indicate that your baby is ready to start their weaning journey…
- when they constantly seem hungry and is no longer content between breast or formula milk feeds (this excludes growth spurts or when they are unwell)
- Is older than 4 months of age
- when your baby has doubled his or her birth weight
- has started teething (oh joy)
- Starts waking frequently during the night
- Is not thriving on breast or formula feeds alone
- shows interest in your food – Nova could not stop staring at our food, watching us take every mouthful with drool dripping down his little chin!
- Can sit upright easily with some support
- Can hold their head up without support and practises good neck control
If your baby is healthy, growing, content and happy and is sleeping for one long stretch of around six to eight hours at night, there is no need to start solid food until you see a marked shift in their feeding and sleeping patterns. There is no one magic age when your baby will like solids. Starting solids is a gradual process — and if your baby turns away or seems uninterested, it may just not be the right time yet. And that’s okay. Don’t force it.
• Why Can I Not Introduce Food Before 4 Months?
For the first few months, your baby will only need breast milk or formula to meet all their nutritional needs, satisfy their hunger and ensure adequate growth and development. My mom loves telling me how I slept through the night at five minutes old or whatever because they stuck rice cereal in my bottle – so if you have to know, I think this is why I am fat. A baby younger than 4 months old’s digestive tract is still immature and feeding solids during this time will increase the risk of them developing various allergies. Introducing solids too early poses a risk of infection, choking and undernutrition in the short term, and increased the possibility of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the long term. Let’s back this up with some statistics…
According to the 2018 Stats SA’s report on Mortality and causes of death in South Africa, the leading cause of death among infants is respiratory and cardiovascular disorders specific to the perinatal period (responsible for 14,8% deaths), while intestinal infectious diseases is the third leading cause of death (responsible for 6,7%). Babies and young children who suffer from diarrhoea, lower respiratory infections and undernutrition, as a result, risk these conditions increases with the introduction of solids before 4 – 6 months.
• Do I Stop Giving My Baby Formula Or Breastmilk When Introducing Solids?
In the early days, solid food never takes the place of breast milk or formula feeds. Solid food is always given in addition to your baby’s milk feeds, and the volume of milk offered at each feed will remain the same. However, a normal pattern is that older babies rely less on milk feeds for nutrition, so it’s normal for babies older than six-months that is eating well to drop a few feeds during the day.
• What Do I Need To Get Started?
These are items that would make your journey so much easier. What you get to prepare yourself depends on whether you will be making your baby’s food at home, finances and how much of a comfort you would like. I make most of Nova’s food, I did the same with Knox and he is such a great eater! I also like anything that is going to make my life easier. I run three companies, I have three kids, three dogs, three cats and a crazy husband. I don’t have a nanny or domestic help, and my kids only attend school half day – I NEED ALL THE HELP I CAN GET. If it is going to save me time or make the process easier, it is worth every single cent. So, these are my recommendations. You can do without, but they will make life easier…
1. An excellent blender – The Tommee Tippee Baby Food Steamer Blender steams and blends food all in one! The texture of your baby’s first solid food should be super smooth. If you are preparing your baby food, make sure you strain, puree, or finely mash it, and then thin it with some water, breastmilk, formula milk or coconut water/milk if necessary.
2. Soft feeding spoons to avoid gum damage – We use the Heat Sensing Spoons from Tommee Tippee. Not only do they have soft tips, they also change colour if the food is too hot!
3. 5 Million Trillion Bibs. While I can’t guarantee that every feeding session won’t result in a full laundry basket, I can recommend one less thing you’ll need to scrub down: the Tommee Tippee Roll N Go Bib! These waterproof bibs are made from a soft and light material to be comfortable and durable. There’s even a crumb catcher! Which means you could possibly skip having to mop the floor. A girl can dream…
4. The Magic Mat – One of the hardest parts of your baby starting on food? When your baby inevitably decides to chuck his bowl onto the floor. Or, you could skip that moment entirely with a bowl that knows how to hold its ground. I love the magic matt from Tommee Tippee which cling to almost any surface for fewer spills.
5. Loads of spit cloths (I just use terri cloths from PEP) and wet wipes
6. A Feeding Chair
7. Containers to freeze homemade baby food in
• What Food Do I Start With?
Our paediatrician advised us to start with Sweet Potato. This is a hardcore superfood for babies. Sweet potatoes are filled with Vitamin A and C, potassium, and plenty of phytonutrients as well. Best of all, they’re naturally sweet and form a deliciously creamy consistency when pureed. And of course, there’s the fibre again, helping keep those poops filling up those diapers. They also generally don’t cause food allergies, so this is a safe food for most babies.
Avocado, carrots, bananas, apples, peaches, prunes and pears are generally well-tolerated, but be careful to mix in some not so sweet things, too, or you’ll soon have a mini-sugarholic on your hands.
If you start with baby cereal, make sure to pick a single-grain variety and keep it simple.
• How Do I Start?
Offer your baby a new food a few times over three to five days before trying another new food. Your aim should be to get your baby used to (and happy with) the taste and texture of a variety of food. If you mix the flavours in the beginning, you may never know which ones they like and can tolerate well. Introduce one food at a time, so you can track if there’s a problem. You can start to combine different foods and flavours when they have been tried and tested for a satisfactory period of time.
Begin with offering your baby a teaspoon of food once a day whenever they are not too tired, hungry, or cranky.
• Picky Eaters
Do not add any sugar to baby food, and try not to get them hooked on the sweet stuff like vanilla custard, etc at first
Babies often need to be introduced to a new food four or five (or more) times before they’ll accept it, so try to be patient. He’s not trying to be an asshole… really. Just be patient… after day 5, give it a rest and try again in a few weeks.
It is important to introduce them to a variety of tastes in the first few months.
I try to follow responsive feeding. When your baby pushes food away, turns their head, seals their lips, or spits out the food, you should not force the issue. The AAP explains responsive feeding here.
You can also read some of my previous articles on the topic …
• How Much Should My Baby Be Eating?
In the beginning, start with one or two teaspoons of food. Gradually increase it as your baby wants more and more… just follow their lead.
• Baby-led Weaning
I start with purees, and as soon as the hand reflexes kick in – I let him play with the spoon or try to pick up soft snacks from a tray. There are a whole bunch of moms that practise baby-led weaning, which means they start–right at six months–with finger foods, and skip purees and spoon-feeding. There are many potential benefits to baby-led weaning, including improved dexterity, early oral-motor skill development, self-regulation, ease for parents, decreased picky eating and more.
The truth is, there’s no “right” way to introduce solids. What might work well for one baby, might not work so well for the next. Both methods can work well–it just depends on both the baby and the parents as to which method (or perhaps a combo) will work better. I also truly believe that both methods can be “baby-led”, especially if you pay close attention to your baby’s cues and don’t coax or force your baby to eat.
• What are the signs of a food allergy?
If your baby is allergic to a new food, you’ll see signs of a reaction within a few minutes or hours.
Symptoms of a mild allergic reaction to food include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Itchy mouth, nose, and/or ears
- Itchy skin, red patches, or hives
- Redness around the mouth or eyes
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Abdominal pain
A severe food allergy may cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.
If your baby has any of the following symptoms, get them to your nearest emergency unit immediately! I would say call an ambulance, but in South Africa – who knows how long that would take.
- Turning blue
- Trouble breathing
- Facial swelling (including lips or tongue)
Don’t take time to call the doctor for advice.
• Common Foods That Cause Allergies
Any food can cause an allergy, but the most common food allergens for young children are called “highly allergenic” foods.
- Cow’s milk
- Fish (like tuna, salmon, and cod)
- Shellfish (like lobster, shrimp, and crab)
- Tree nuts (like walnuts, Brazil nuts, and cashews)
• Is It Possible To Reduce Your Baby’s Risk Of Developing A Food Allergy?
Experts have found that waiting too long to introduce highly allergenic foods after 6 months of age may increase the risk of a child developing a food allergy.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) recommends that parents introduce solid foods – including highly allergenic foods – when their baby is 4 to 6 months old. However, all of the following conditions must be met:
- Your baby is developmentally ready for solids.
- Your baby has already tried a few traditional first foods and hasn’t had any allergic reactions.
- Your baby does not fall into any high-risk allergy categories.
• Homemade Baby Food Services
Want to give your baby homemade meals, but don’t have the time or energy to make it? Try out these lovely local companies:
1 Umatie (this is the only service I have personally tried and tested, it was a few years ago but I was really happy!
• The Case Of Commercial Baby Food In South Africa
Wits University did an amazing study this year, here is an excerpt…
“South Africa has the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world, with an alarming figure of 13%. The global average stands at 6%. A study was recently conducted by Wits University, with alarming results…
Commercial baby foods are often introduced as first foods to infants in South Africa because they are convenient and easy to use. This makes our findings particularly alarming.
We collected and analysed the sugar content of 235 baby food items from 12 different manufacturers sold in major South African supermarkets. Nearly 90% were prepared baby food products, of which 35% were pureed fruit and 20% were pureed meals.
Only one in five of the baby foods in the study had acceptable levels as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – that is, less than 20% of total calories was derived from sugar.
But nearly 80% of cereals and pureed desserts contained added sugar. Processed meals that contained added sugar, including honey, were a carrot blend with semolina and two types of breakfast oats.
The study also shed light on the fact that little information was available to consumers on the ingredients used in baby foods. For example, it was almost impossible to identify which products had added sugar versus those that had intrinsic (natural) sugars only. Both are unhealthy in processed products.”
Read the full article here
• Storage Instructions For Baby Food
Commercial (Store-Bought) Baby Food
- These can be kept in a dark, cool place for 1-2 years.
- Keep the baby food unopened in its original plastic container, pouch, or glass jar.
- Look at the label or the lid of the baby food to see the expiration date and make sure to use the food by that date to ensure that it’s safe for your baby.
- When feeding baby, scoop some of the baby food out into a bowl. If you feed him/her directly from the jar, you contaminate any of the leftover food and cannot keep it for later.
Homemade Baby Food
- Homemade baby food can be safely frozen for 3-6 months, but you ideally want to use it within 1-3 months
- You can safely refrigerate veggie or fruit-based homemade baby food for 48 hours
- Homemade baby food containing meat, fish, poultry or eggs need to be used within 24 hours of being refrigerated
- Storing foods in a deep freezer is best
- You should never refreeze a thawed product
- You should not use Previously Frozen Breast Milk to thin purées that you will then be freezing into baby food cubes.
- Breast Milk should never be re-frozen in any way or form.
- The use of infant formula after freezing is not recommended. Although freezing does not affect nutritional quality or sterility, physical separation of the product’s components may occur.” http://www.infantformula.org/faqs.html#14
- It might be easier to freeze your purees without adding any extra liquids. If need be, thin your puree food cube(s) when it comes time to feed your baby. Should you decide to do this, you simply thaw the “un-thinned” food cubes and then thin the food cubes to the desired texture that your baby requires.
• Additional Advice
Prepare for the poop. You thought the diapers were bad before? You ain’t seen – or smelled – nothing yet.
• Helpful Resources
DISCLAIMER: This article is not sponsored – however, we were sent the Tommee Tippee products for reviewing purposes. We only mentioned the products that we truly found helpful.