As parents, we excitedly watch our little ones for each new milestone. From rolling over through first steps, and beyond, we're constantly anticipating and celebrating their development. One very exciting milestone that many anticipate, yet many misunderstand, is introduction to Solid foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that ideally, a child will receive a diet of exclusive breatmilk until the age of 6 months, at which time solids can be appropriately and safely introduced. Introducing solids early, has been linked to an increase in obesity and related health concerns in children.
There are signs that indicate readiness beyond just age. Some of these signs include the ability to sit up unassisted, loss of the tongue thrust reflex, the ability to grasp food and put it to the mouth independently. Presence of teeth and being a big baby are not indicators for appropriateness of solids introduction. Please remember that solids, at this point are complimentary to a breast milk diet. It is recommended to always offer a breastfeed before offering solids to ensure they are meeting their dietary needs.
So where do we start? Are there any myths surrounding solid food introduction? What are some things to consider? What about allergies?
Before we continue I have an important request: Please keep in mind that I am not your child's health care provider. I do not know their medical history and therefore this information is geared toward "the average" child. There are always special cases that may require alternative methods of care. This article is not about providing specific personal advice, but rather, an introduction to information that can help spark further independent research and dialogue between you and your healthcare provider.
Your child is six months old (where has the time gone?!), sits up independently, can grasp food, and meets all of the developmental criteria for starting solids. But what do you let him try first? Is there a right or wrong way? Purees or Baby Led Weaning? What is baby led weaning? What about rice cereal? All of these questions swarm through parents' minds as we approach this milestone. First and foremost, I will say that almost all popular advice surrounding the introduction of rice cereal is a myth. Rice cereal has very little, if any, nutritional value. It is not been proven to help a baby sleep at night. It is not been proven to help with reflux. And if given via bottle, it is a choking hazard. You can learn more about rice cereal here.
Personally, we skipped cereals altogether. Some people, however are adamant about starting baby cereals. If this is you, you may want to consider alternatives such as oatmeals. Aside from rice cereal having little nutritional value, and high glycemic index, there are some concerns about possibly dangerous arsenic levels. This may be a topic you want to further research before making a decision.
It is a myth that babies must be spoon fed purees, and progress through the stages to table food. This approach is okay and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. But what if I told you there is another (easier and cheaper some might say) approach that fosters food exploration, independence, and self regulation? Baby led weaning is the term used to refer to following baby's lead when introducing solids. Under this method, parents do not "force feed", spoon feed, or do much of anything really. Baby is presented with healthy, safe options and is given the freedom to explore the food at his/her own pace. Many times this begins with just playing with and sucking on food. It progresses to chewing and eventually swallowing, which is actually the exact opposite of purees, which teaches swallowing then chewing.
If you read my post on baby led weaning, you can learn more about feeding safety and first food ideas!
What should/shouldn't baby eat? Is there any food to avoid?
Current recommendations regarding highly allergenic foods is actually to introduce them early. Parents will introduce foods such as peanut powder, egg yolks, etc. This early introduction is suggested to lower the risk of allergy development. If, however, your family has a highly allergenic history, you may want to discuss this with your physician. That being said, there aren't many foods that must be avoided. Common sense would suggest offering only healthy, low sugar options. Foods high in fat and iron are extremely beneficial for promotion of health.
The only food that needs to be absolutely avoided until after the age of one, is honey. If you'd like to hear more about my experience with solids introductions, please read my post on baby led weaning.
Share your experiences with us! What foods did your baby love? Hate? Did you find an approach to solids you never expected? What myths or surprising advice have you heard about starting solids ?
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