Jacque Ordner BSN, RN, IBCLC, RLC
You finally feel like you’ve gotten this breastfeeding thing figured out and your baby’s pediatrician mentions starting solids. Like most parents, your mind is instantly filled with tons of questions. When do I start? How do I know she’s ready? Do I need to offer foods in a certain order? Do I start with baby cereal or baby-led weaning? Will my baby still want my milk once he starts solids? What about allergies? HELP!!!
We’ve got you covered with our quick guide to starting solids with your breastfed baby!
How do I know my baby is ready?
Current research and recommendations tell us that human milk is the only nutrition needed for healthy, full-term babies up to six months of age. Breast milk is amazing because it changes in composition to meet baby’s unique needs as they grow. It’s not surprising that many babies begin to show signs of readiness for solids at around six months as well.
Signs of readiness include:
o Can sit unsupported
o Has good head control
o Has lost the tongue thrust reflex and can move food from the front of the mouth to the throat
o Opens mouth when offered foods
o Can use pincer grasp to bring food to the mouth (essential for self-feeding)
o Has doubled birthweight
Which method is best?
The goal of introducing solids is to help baby explore new skills, flavors, and textures while also introducing new sources of nutrition. While trends may try to dictate a singular approach, it can be beneficial and even easier to use a combined approach. For example, if you’re not keen on rice cereal because of the potential for arsenic, cadmium, and lead, opt for another fortified grain cereal like barley, oat, or amaranth. Looking to keep things as whole as possible? Consider cooking and mashing foods and mixing with breastmilk rather than purchasing pre-packaged options. Soft foods make good options for encouraging self-feeding. Soft or cooked fruits and vegetables, shredded meats, flaky fish, and beans make great finger foods for little eaters. Avocado packs a big nutritional punch and is often fun for baby to self-feed. When surveying pureed and prepackaged options, look for simple ingredient lists that don’t include sweeteners, thickeners, artificial preservatives or artificial colors and flavors. It’s ok to incorporate both purees and finger food options as baby needs practice with using a spoon and building dexterity in their hands!
What about allergies?
The most up to date recommendation is to introduce common allergen containing foods after 6 months and before 12 months for healthy, term infants. The most common allergen foods are eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, seafood, soy, and sesame. Another safety measure is to introduce only one new food at a time so that if an allergy occurs, it can be easily associated with its cause. Experts recommend peanut allergy testing (prior to introducing peanut containing foods) for babies who have severe eczema and/or have an allergy to eggs. Allergy experts often recommend keeping common allergen foods as a regular part of baby’s diet provided there was no allergic reaction after introduction.
How do we get started?
Offer breastmilk first! Breastmilk is still baby’s primary source of nutrition until 12 months. Nurse or offer a bottle of breastmilk before moving to solids. If baby is interested, it’s ok to give solids immediately after. However, some babies prefer to wait a bit before taking in solid food after a nursing session or a bottle. Solids should not replace breastmilk intake, but rather compliment it. Start small! Occasionally parents will feel overwhelmed at the thought of getting an entire serving of baby-friendly food into their just-turned-six-month-old. Keep in mind that introducing solids is meant to be a gradual process, so it’s ok if baby is only interested in a bite or two at first. As baby gets the hang of their new skills, they’ll naturally increase their solids intake. Children learn through modeling, so consider feeding baby solids during your normal mealtimes. There is no evidence that starting with fruits will make baby less likely to take vegetables or vice versa. There is no specific order in which foods must be introduced. If baby is completely resistant to starting solids, despite displaying signs of readiness, table the idea (no pun intended) for a week or two. As with other developmental skills, not all babies are ready at the same time.
It’s not uncommon for babies to experience a change in diaper habits. Introducing solids means more formed stools that often have a stronger odor as well. Some babies may stool less often as well. Introducing solids slowly can help reduce the risk of irritating baby’s digestive system. Don’t forget that foods can influence the color of baby’s stool as well. For example, beets turn stools an obvious red while peas often add a tinge of green. Some parents report that stains from baby’s stool after starting solids are harder to remove than stains during exclusive breastfeeding.
Does my baby need extra liquids?
The short answer is NO. As long as your little one is getting an adequate intake of breastmilk, no additional fluids are needed. Breastmilk changes in composition to become more watery in hotter environments…..how amazing! It is still OK to offer a small amount (no more than 8oz. per day) of water once your baby reaches six months old. Many parents use a small amount of water to introduce a sippy or straw cup at this age. Skip juice as it is high is sugar content and low in other nutritional value. Experts advise no juice for babies under 12 months, and only up to 4oz. of 100% fruit juice thereafter.
Have more questions? Need more details? Check out these resources for additional information:
Looking for help creating a personalized plan for starting solids? Schedule a FREE consultation with one of our specially train International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs)
Starting Solids. (2020, August 7). La Leche League International. https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/starting-solids/
When, What, and How to Introduce Solid Foods. (2020, December 11). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/InfantandToddlerNutrition/foods-and-drinks/when-to-introduce-solid-foods.html
Working Together: Breastfeeding and Solid Foods. (2012). HealthyChildren.Org. https://healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Working-Together-Breastfeeding-and-Solid-Foods.aspx