Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Katja Leccisi, MS, RDN, Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
Photo: Emma and Lynley by Melissa Vickers
The second part in our Starting Solids series. This series explores the many aspects of feeding your baby, from tasting first foods through the first year.
Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible.
Part two: How to offer first foods to your baby
In part one we discussed how to know when your baby is ready to start solid foods. So now you are ready with a high chair and cute little baby dishes at the ready. The advice is flying in from all camps: “Let him feed himself” or “Start with puréed foods” are just two of the potentially conflicting pieces of advice you may hear.
Starting foods is a big step, the first in the weaning process. Recommendations have changed over the years, and I find that sometimes parents are not sure what the latest news is. In this second part of the Starting Solids series, I will give you the most up-to-date information to the questions parents most often ask me about how to start feeding their baby.
Q: What is the best way to introduce foods to my baby?
A: There is no single correct way.
The form of the first foods you offer to your baby—purées or pieces—will depend very much on his stage of development and your personal preferences. Some parents like to begin by offering their baby purées first (before progressing to textured foods and pieces): a necessary approach if your baby is younger than six months old and is not yet showing all the signs of readiness to eat. For babies who are ready to eat solids, you can offer more textured foods and larger pieces of foods right away so that your baby can feed himself.
Q: What does it mean to be a responsive feeder?
A: Listening and responding to your baby’s cues.
Responsive feeding means listening to the early cues your baby gives you to communicate that he’s hungry or has had enough to eat. As a breastfeeding mother, you’ve probably been doing this since birth. You simply want to continue being attentive as your baby starts to eat complementary foods. Responsive feeding means that you are present with your baby when you offer food, in a safe and comfortable environment, making eye contact and giving positive verbal encouragement, but not pressuring him to eat. Being a responsive feeder allows your baby to exercise his innate ability to self-regulate the amount he eats, that is, to eat as much as his body needs to grow and thrive.
Q: What is “baby led weaning”?
A: A way of introducing complementary foods that allows babies to feed themselves.
Baby led weaning has become popular in the last decade and was popularized by the publication in 2008 of Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett’s book Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food. With this approach to introducing foods to your baby, spoon-feeding is unnecessary. The puréed food stage is skipped altogether by offering foods that your baby can pick up and feed to himself, rather than you feeding him with a spoon.
Q: I’m interested in baby led weaning, but I’m worried about my baby choking. Is it safe?
A: Yes, if you follow commonsense guidelines.
Many parents are nervous about their baby choking before they start introducing solids or begin offering foods that have not been puréed. Be alert to the types and form of foods you offer to your baby and be heedful of choking hazards, such as nuts and whole grapes. Babies have a natural gagging reflex that kicks in to prevent swallowing and choking if they put too much food into their mouth at once. Never leave a baby alone to eat unsupervised.
Q: Is it okay to spoon-feed my baby?
There is no one absolutely right way to feed your baby. Some foods are more easily offered with a spoon, such as baby cereals, or yogurts. You can let your baby eat these with her hands too, but be prepared for the mess! What’s important is that you respect your baby’s signals telling you if he wants more or has had enough. Feel free to combine spoon-feeding and a more self-led approach by offering pieces of food he can pick up and feed himself and letting him have a spoon so he can explore them too.
Q: Should I let my baby try to feed himself?
Even if you are offering your baby foods by spoon-feeding him, give him the opportunity to learn to feed himself. If your baby is six months old when you start introducing foods to him, he will likely be happy to have some foods on the tray in front of him to pick up, squish, and he may even eat them. First foods are all about discovery, so give him plenty of opportunities to explore foods.
Q: My baby hates it when I feed him with a spoon. What should I do?
A: Don’t force him. Try giving him finger foods.
It’s not uncommon for some babies to dislike being spoon-fed. Very often they are the ones who love to do things for themselves. Try giving your baby foods that he can pick up and feed himself. And give him his own spoon to try to use while you also offer him a spoon filled with food.
Q: How often should I feed my baby?
A: When he shows you he’s hungry.
The most important thing is to continue to be responsive to your baby’s hunger cues, just as you have been doing since his birth by breastfeeding. Health Canada cites the World Health Organization: “From six to eight months, parents and caregivers should work towards offering complementary foods in two to three feedings, and one to two snacks each day, depending on the older infant’s appetite.” The idea here is to eventually integrate your baby’s eating into your family schedule. Having your baby sit with you and offering him food whenever you sit down to eat is an easy way to do it. Let him choose to eat, which he will do, if he’s hungry. Between those times, remember to keep offering him breast milk at regular intervals and whenever he shows you that he wants some.
Q: How do I know my baby is hungry?
A: As he has done since birth, he will show you.
A hungry baby may start to fuss and whine, and if you are eating, he may reach for your food. If you are feeding him, he will open his mouth when the utensil appears. If he is self-feeding, he will be picking up and exploring the foods in front of him.
Q: How much should I feed my baby?
A: As much as he wants to eat.
Because every baby is different, and because appetite varies, it’s not really possible to give you specific quantities of food that your baby should eat. Offer a variety of foods over the course of the day, continue to breastfeed, and respect your baby’s signals that he is still hungry or has eaten enough. Don’t be surprised if the amount that your baby eats when you first start introducing complementary foods is very small, the equivalent of two or three tablespoons (or 30–45 ml) a day.
Q: How do I know my baby has had enough to eat?
A: He will show you.
The most common signs that your baby has had enough to eat are:
- closing his mouth,
- turning his head,
- fussing to get down from his seat,
- losing interest in the food,
- throwing down on the floor more food than he is eating.
Q: My baby gags on lumpy puréed food. What should I do?
A: Try giving him pieces of food.
Some babies are not particularly keen on thicker purées, especially those with lumps or chunks in them. Offer him finger foods, those that he can pick up and feed himself. Very often these are preferred to chunky bits mixed in with purées.
Q: My baby still doesn’t have any teeth. Can I give him foods other than purées?
Babies can chomp down on most foods with their gums. They don’t need teeth to eat most gently cooked or soft raw foods, and can eat grains and even suck on chunks of meat before they have any teeth.
Q: It seems that more food goes on the floor or on his body than in my baby’s mouth. Is this normal?
A: Yes, especially at first.
Eating foods is a learning process, and babies learn best through play and exploration. It’s perfectly normal that a lot of food never makes it to your baby’s mouth.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for dealing with the mess during mealtimes?
It certainly can be frustrating to have to deal with the mess your baby makes when he is learning to eat. Try giving him small amounts of food at a time to avoid too much mess and too much waste. Let him explore without wiping his face and cleaning him up during the process, as this may frustrate him and interfere with the pleasurable experience of exploring food. Some parents find it simpler to let their babies eat with little clothing on, and then they simply give them a bath right afterwards. Many set a splash mat or newspaper on the floor around their baby’s chair. If you are lucky enough to have a dog, you have a ready helper for after-meal cleanup!
More from Katja: Eating Well during Pregnancy: Coping with Morning Sickness Nausea, Eating Well during Pregnancy: Weight Gain, Eating Well During Pregnancy: Iron Requirements, Food Themes in Children’s Books, How To Feed Your Kids / Cómo alimentar a tus hijos, Let Your Child Eat! / Lass dein Kind essen! My First LLL Meeting and a Cookie Recipe, Raising Healthy Eaters: Lessons Learned from Breastfeeding, Starting Solids: When?