Updated: Feb 18, 2020
As Valentine’s Day approaches, my heart starts calling for dark chocolate. As your baby starts sitting up, moving and playing more, she might be getting ready for her own version of “chocolate,” or foods other than your milk.
Breastfeeding is such an essential and special part of your early months with your child. Through breastfeeding and/or breastmilk feeding, your milk not only provides calories to grow, it provides life-long immunity, sensory stimulation through touch, taste and smell, and elements that are foundational for cognitive, emotional and spiritual development. Breastmilk is nourishment beyond just filling the belly. Through your diet, your baby has been tasting different flavors from the very beginning. As your baby continues to grow and thrive, part of the evolution of eating means adding foods that complement your baby’s diet of breastmilk.
Health and breastfeeding experts all recommend that your baby receive only breastmilk for the first six months of life and encourage waiting to add any other food (cereal, liquids, or any other foods) to your baby’s diet until close to six months. It’s important that as you build on your baby’s cuisine with complementary foods (“solids”), you continue with breastfeeding throughout the first year of your baby’s life and as long as both you and your baby desire. A large amount of research supports this plan, and while most major health organizations have updated their policies, some advice to parents, and written materials still do not reflect these current recommendations.
The maturity of your baby’s digestive tract and your baby’s developmental readiness are the two main factors that determine when to start adding food to your breastmilk. There is no magic age or weight that makes your baby ready to eat food; each baby develops and matures at a different pace. Some babies are ready for foods just before six months, and others are not ready until closer to seven or eight months. Introducing solids too early can displace immunities from breastmilk, increase the risk of gastrointestinal and respiratory infection, cause digestive upset, gas, constipation, and possibly increase the chance of allergic reactions, Babies who were born prematurely or who are underweight may need to follow different feeding recommendations and parents should consult with their pediatrician to customize these general principles to their baby’s specific needs.
There is a lot of conflicting and confusing information “out there” about how or when to introduce first foods to a breastfeeding baby! I’ve included some basic guidelines for introducing complementary foods starting at 6 months in this article. Breastfeeding and complementary food policies and some feeding “hints” unique to each resource are listed below the site links.
This is not a comprehensive list and there are numerous options for first foods based on cultural, family, dietary preferences, or family history of allergies. This collection of resources is designed as a starting point and offers some helpful “how-to’s.” Please review these excellent sites for more content and explanations than I can fit in this blog. You can also download or print a summary of this information from the Resources page on my website. Just as a healthy diet includes a variety of colorful foods, give yourself permission to explore a wide range of suggestions as you discover fun and healthy ways to keep nourishing your baby. And, nourish yourself! Maybe starting with some dark chocolate (moms only!)…
Signs Your Baby May be Ready for Solids:
About 6 months old
Can sit up without any support
Has good head control
Has lost the tongue-thrusting reflex and does not push solids out of her mouth
Eager for food: she opens her mouth and leans forward when food is offered
Picks up things with her finger and thumb (pincer grasp)
Breastfeed or give breastmilk first, before offering food
Start with just a few spoonfuls for tasting, then gradually increase as your baby grows
Add one food at a time, wait 3-5 days between each new food
Try the same food multiple times and don’t get discouraged if your baby needs 10 or more tries before she “likes” it
Expect some funny faces-there are so many different flavors!
First food ideas (no particular order): a variety of infant cereals (oat, barley, multi-grain, rice*), meat or other proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains, yogurts. *The FDA has recently cautioned that rice & rice cereal can lead to arsenic exposure, so offer a variety of grains to your baby.
Focus on iron-rich foods (iron-fortified cereals, meats/fish/poultry, cooked plain tofu, legumes/beans) to ensure adequate neuro-cognitive development
For families with food allergies, consult your doctor or allergist for advice on when to start on foods that are considered more allergenic (the most common allergenic foods are: cow’s milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soybeans, citrus fruits)
Give solid foods of appropriate textures for baby’s development and ability: progress from pureed, to lumpy, to semi-solid and soft, to normal texture during the 6-12 month period
Do not add any salt, sugar or honey to foods
Avoid nutrient-poor snack foods with high levels of saturated fat, added sugars and/or added salt (like cakes, cookies, potato chips, fast foods or processed foods)
Avoid juices and sugar-sweetened drinks, caffeine
When offering water, use clean tap water or purified bottled water; avoid bottled mineral or sparkling or flavored waters
Food for Thought: I’m a huge fan of everything organic! There is no mention of organic foods being important or necessary for babies in any of these sources, but I believe very strongly in limiting (eliminating) exposure to neurotoxic pesticides and genetically modified foods, and unnecessary antibiotic use in our meats. Ethical and sustainable sources are another consideration for my food choices.
AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics 2012)
Breastfeeding preferred; alternatively, expressed mother’s milk, or donor milk is next best
Healthy Children (an AAP Foundation, last updated 2012) Please note: the primary sponsor for this organization is Perrigo—a formula company.
Wait until 1 year to offer homemade foods from spinach, beets, turnips, green beans, squash, carrots, collard greens. Depending on the soil these vegetables are grown in, they may contain large amounts of naturally occurring nitrates, which can cause a form of anemia. Commercial baby food companies screen produce for nitrates. (Feed Yourself, Feed Your Family, pg 167, from LLLI)
The cookbook listed above, Feed Yourself, Feed Your Family is a wonderful resource to simplify cooking for your family. The recipes are delicious and offer a wide variety of meals for everyone in a family, snacks, and lots of tips and information about developmental stages of children, meal prep for busy families, and nutrition.
KellyMom: (Lots of detailed, research-based evidence from numerous sources)
CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention 2019)
A non-profit organization promoting health for the 1st 1000 days of a child’s life.
View these short, fun videos about introducing complementary foods
Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (2012, see the “Infant Feeding Guidelines: Summary” PDF for specific recommendations)
Health Canada (2014)
Exclusive breastfeeding definition: no other food or drink, not even water, except breast milk…but allows for the infant to receive vitamins, minerals, medicines
AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians, 2014)
Share your experiences about starting complementary foods with your baby. You are amazing!