Once you are starting to get to grips with caring for your new baby, have figured out feeding, how to get sleepsuits on and off and even sometimes get the naps right, people start talking about food!
We know that pregnancy, birth and babies seems to come with a whole lot of unsolicited and, often, random advice and this section is certainly no different.
Introducing your baby to solid food can feel like a huge step. It is a massive change from milk feeds and although it can be really exciting and lots of fun, there is often anxiety over getting it right and about choking.
The guidance is to start solid foods with your baby when they are around 6 months and showing the signs of readiness (I’ll include them later). If you start at this time you can pretty much just go for what you like with food. If you start earlier (but never before 4 months) it is really just fruit and veg, no carbs, meat, fish dairy etc. and it will need to be puree.
All that well meaning advice means that there are a lot of myths to bust, so let’s go!
He/She is a big baby, they need more than milk now.
Hhhmmmm, let’s think about this for a minute. That big baby, how did they get big? Was it by any chance milk? Milk is the perfect way to fill your baby’s tummy and give them the calories and nutrients they need.
Giving your big baby food a bit earlier means giving some veg puree which will fill their tummy and might reduce milk feeds a little. Filling tummies with fruit and veg is great if you are on a diet and trying to reduce your calorie intake, not so great if you are growing rapidly and need lots of calories!
So keep going with the milk for your big baby. There is a growth spurt, and often disturbed sleep, around 4 months which can knock your confidence a bit if you are breastfeeding but it is all totally normal. Keep feeding and keep responding to your baby and you will get back on track. Food is not going to help you.
And the same is true if baby is small – they need the calories from milk not food at this stage. If you are concerned about your baby’s weight speak to your Health Visitor or, if breastfeeding, get some specialist feeding support.
My baby is always watching me eat
Absolutely your baby watches you eat, with total fascination! But I am sure your baby is also fascinated to watch you use the toilet, vacuum, drive the car, drink a glass of wine and all sorts of other things, and you aren’t planning on toilet training or driving lessons just yet. Babies are absolutely fascinated with watching you, because it is you and they are learning from you, but not necessarily ready to join you just yet!
You baby doesn’t know what food is. They don’t know that the chocolate cake tastes yummy or that your pasta would take away those hunger feelings, they just see you doing something over and over and watch to see what you do.
And then of course…….
My baby grabs food from my plate
Well yes, as above. They are fascinated by what you are doing and fancy trying it! Same with your phone and the remote control. This is sometimes the way some babies get their first tastes though, especially if they are fast and you are distracted.
My baby is waking more in the night and seems hungry all the time
As above it is really normal for 4ish month olds to wake more. It is a time of huge development for them, physically and mentally and some babies wake because they want to practice all their new skills like rolling over or watching their hands and feet. They are also becoming more aware of the world around them and their little brains are processing so much information when they sleep that it can be unsettling. I expect we all know the feeling when you have had a busy few days and you just can’t switch off and sleep is a bit more disturbed. Your baby will need a bit more reassurance and comfort when they wake so that they can settle back to sleep.
Add that to a growth spurt and it can be a really tough time for parents and is often a point where you worry about whether you have somehow got it all wrong and broken your baby.
Ride it out, things will settle and solids are generally not the answer at this stage. It is not uncommon for solid foods to mess up baby’s digestion a little too, especially if their tummy isn’t ready yet. This could mean more discomfort and wind which certainly won’t help with sleep.
Their iron levels are dropping
OK, not so much a myth because iron levels do vary but not in the dramatic way it sometimes sounds. Iron from breastmilk is far better utilised by baby than from any other sources so keeping on with feeding is the best way to keep iron stores up.
This article explains it way better than I could https://kellymom.com/nutrition/vitamins/iron/
The rules are always changing, you were fine
I mean this could be the advice for a whole heap of stuff but it certainly comes up in food because we are of a generation who were given our first foods around 3-4 months so if the advice is coming from grandparents that is what they did. And you were fine, right?
The government guidance to exclusively breastfeed and introduce solids around 6 months actually dates from……..2003! 20 years ago. Maybe not everyone reading this is of an age to be weaned around 3 months (1970s) or 4 months (1980s), I am feeling old!
But that means the guidance hasn’t actually changed in any significant way for 20 years. Before that it changed as our knowledge and understanding changed but we have been where we are for a long time now.
There is some suggestion that babies having food before their body is ready could increase risk of autoimmune disorders and intolerances.
They are putting everything in their mouth, they are so advanced, they need food
Babies absolutely put everything in their mouths! It isn’t so bad when they don’t move and you can make sure it just their toys that are in reach but once they can wriggle or roll around it could be anything going in their mouth. It is how they learn and explore. They are learning shape, density, texture, taste and they take in more information in that way than any other. It is a really normal part of development but doesn’t necessarily mean they need food. As their co-ordination improves and they can put things to their mouth it is a sign they may be ready for food – in conjunction with the other signs.
And just for the record, you aren’t a mean parent if you don’t give them a lick of your ice-cream or a nibble of a cookie, your baby isn’t missing out! All in good time.
What are the signs of readiness?
Around 4-6 months your baby’s digestive system is changing and maturing to be ready to handle food. All babies are different and we can’t physically look at their gut to see what is happening and when they are ready for food. But we can look at what else is happening in their development because infant development all ties in together. When babies are ready to do something everything comes together. Think about all the stages they go through to be able to crawl or walk, it all comes together and away they go. Digesting food is the same idea, as the other areas are developing so is their gut so when they are ready to digest food they are ready to eat food.
What does that look like? There are three main things to look out for;
Baby can sit upright in their high chair or on the floor with good neck and head control, they can hold themselves up unsupported. This reduces the risk of choking if the head falls forwards.
Baby can pick up food and put it to their mouth with good co-ordination. This is the developmental stage where we see baby is able to feed themselves in a simple way which suggests they are also ready to digest that food.
Baby has lost their tongue thrust reflex. This is a protective reflex where your baby will use their tongue to push anything back out of their mouth. Trying to introduce food if this is still present could turn into a messy and stressful affair!
If all of these are there, then you are good to go!
If you start food when your baby shows all the signs of readiness then you can start with just about anything (no honey or shellfish) and can give your baby finger foods and whatever family meals you are having (watch salt and sugar intake).
If you introduce solid foods earlier than your baby is showing all these signs you will need to start with puree or well mashed foods and only fruit and vegetables until they are 6 months or show the signs of readiness.
Don’t feel under pressure to start with foods before you and your baby are ready. Honestly it can be so much easier when it is just milk and you don’t need to worry about food and mealtimes! And when the time is right – Enjoy!
If you are preparing to introduce solid foods to your baby come and join a Starting Solids Workshop to help you figure out the options and how meals could look in your house. You will leave feeling confident and ready!