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When to Start Solids: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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Deciding when to start solids is one of those big decisions for a family that really seems pretty cut and dry. It’s amazing that there’s so much confusion around it though.

Things are constantly changing when it comes to raising babies. Science is always evolving and each year we become smarter and know more about what our babies do and do not need.

Because of all this change though, it’s no wonder things can get a little fuzzy, especially for first-time moms trying to figure out if they should listen to their doctor or to all of the unlicensed pediatricians, aka other moms, they know.

First and foremost, I want to say that I am not a doctor. The information below is based on my own experience and research. When in doubt, ALWAYS listen to your doctor.

(This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you buy something through one of my links I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will never suggest a product or service that I don’t use and love myself because that’s just wrong. If you like reading legal mumbo-jumbo then you can check out my disclosure policy HERE.)

For a long time, moms were told to start feeding their babies rice cereal starting at 4 months. There was a lot of thought that having the added sustenance, especially before bed, could help the baby sleep longer at night.

We now know that none of that is true.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now says that parents should wait until 6 months to start their babies on solid food, though some parents wait longer.

I promise, having the extra food at night isn’t going to help your baby sleep. A good nighttime routine and getting through the cluster feeding that growth spurts cause is really the only way to do that.

Why should you wait until 6 months to start solids?

Doctors didn’t just randomly pick the 6 month mark as the age to start solids. There are a multitude of reasons why waiting can help your baby in the long run.

Higher risk of choking

Babies younger than 6 months do not have the same control over their bodies, and especially their mouths, like older babies do.

Younger babies simply do not have the motor skills needed to swallow solid food. It takes time for babies to learn new skills, and swallowing a food that is denser than milk is certainly a new skill.

Babies also have very small airways. These small airways combined with a lack of motor control are just a disaster waiting to happen. Choking is much more common in babies younger than 6 months.

Baby might not get enough calories or nutrients

Breast milk and/or formula is the only food that a baby truly needs before the age of one. Many parents believe that once a baby starts eating solid food that they’ll be able to drop off on the milk. That simply isn’t true.

Babies are incapable of taking in enough real food to cover protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals that they need.

Starting solids too soon increases the chance that your baby may not be getting the adequate nutrition he really needs.

Increased risk of obesity

The typical infant takes in 500-700 calories a day. An infant’s body is better able to regulate is breast milk or formula intake. That isn’t the case with solids.

Infants who begin solids earlier than six months are typically digesting 100 calories a day more than those who did not, according to a study from the University of North Carolina. (Source) 

This added calorie intake early in life can lead to obesity problems later on.

Digestive tract not mature enough for solids

Probably the most important reason for waiting to start your baby on solid foods is simply the fact that his digestive tract isn’t ready for them.

A baby’s digestive tract doesn’t fully mature until around 6 months after birth. Trying to introduce solid foods before that time can cause any number of issues including nutritional deficiencies and can even affect his immune system. (Source) 

How do you know if your baby is ready for solids?

Deciding when to start solids doesn’t just depend on the age of your baby, you also need to make sure that your baby is truly ready.

Signs that your baby is developmentally ready to start solids include:

Can Sit Up Well Without Support

If your baby isn’t strong enough to support his head and body, he is more than likely not able to maneuver the contents in his mouth.

A baby is born knowing a tongue-thrust motion. The movement of food in the mouth comes with time.

No Tongue-Trust Reflex

Drinking milk and eating solids is a completely different thing, especially when it comes to how the tongue is used.

Babies instinctively have a tongue-thrust reflex. This motion allows them to easily suck milk from a bottle or a nipple, but it doesn’t do well for eating food.

This reflex will cause the food to automatically get pushed out of his mouth.

This reflex goes away with time, but it still being there is a sign your baby isn’t ready for solids.

Ready and Willing to Chew

A great way to start practicing the chewing motion is to let your baby chew on teething rings. Freezing them is ideal as your baby begins teething and also helps to reinforce the chewing motion.

If your baby is willing to chew on anything and everything…it’s safe to check this skill off the list.

Developing “Pincer” Grasp

The pincer grasp is the ability to pick up small objects using your thumb and index finger. This fine motor skill is one of the building blocks to your baby’s coordination milestone.

Babies will start off with the Palmer grasp that involves grabbing items with an open hand.

Give your baby an opportunity to practice using different parts of his hand during play time to help develop this skill.

Eager to Participate in Mealtimes

This one is pretty easy. Most babies love the idea of trying mom and dad’s food.

Allow your baby to sit and be a part of the family meal to help reinforce this idea and to allow him to participate being a part of the family whether he has food or no food.

Purees vs Baby Led Weaning

There are two primary feeding methods for baby’s first food, purees and Baby Led Weaning.

Purees

Purees are what most people think of when they think of first foods for infants and it’s exactly what it sounds like, mashed up and blended foods that have a very smooth and almost watery consistency.

Sounds yummy doesn’t it?

Purees became popular when the recommendation was to start babies on solids at 4 months.

A 4-month-old can’t be expected to actually chew any food, so blending it to the point where it couldn’t be choked on was a necessity.

Many parents still choose to go the traditional route and start their babies on purees and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this choice.

There are several different brands of baby food out there that offer great puree options. We used Earth’s Best and Plum Organics ourselves.

 

If you want to be in better control of your baby’s food, then you can always make the food yourself.

I also did this on occasion, especially in the beginning.

Most foods like bananas and avocados you can just mash up with a fork, others you might want to actually put in the blender to get them really smooth.

You can also add water, breast milk, or formula to it to thin it out. Just be aware that breast milk and formula will have to abide by their standard rules for use. (Source) 

I’ve always found it to be a safer bet to just use water.

Baby Led Weaning

Baby Led Weaning isn’t what it sounds like. Many people, myself included, think that BLW is when you wean a baby off of breast milk and/or formula and on to solids.

That isn’t the case.

Baby Led Weaning is simply a feeding method that completely skips purees and goes straight to table foods.

Now before you panic and think that your baby is just going to choke on everything, there really is some benefit to it.

BLW allows your baby to control not only what he puts in his mouth, but also how much.

This is a really great way to help your baby understand the fullness sensation and how it relates to food. Baby Led Weaning also gives him a sense of independence because he is in control of his own food.

It also has the added benefit of meaning that you can actually eat your food while it’s hot rather than having to worry about spoon feeding the crying baby.

I call that a win!

Baby Led Weaning can be a little messier than using purees since your baby will play with more food than he’ll actually eat for a while. I’ve found that a few children-sized smocks to be the perfect solution to this.

I don’t know how I would have survived without them!

What is the best first food for baby?

Babies can have just about any type of food for their first food. The only things you’ll need to stay away from are salt, added sugar, and anything overly acidic like tomatoes.
Other that that you can go to town.

Just remember to only introduce one new food every three days to check for allergies. The same goes for spices.

Some of my son’s favorites were:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Green beans
  • Butternut squash

Do babies drink less milk when they start solids?

No, no, a thousand times NO!

A lot of new parents think that just because a baby can start eating solids that means that he no longer needs as much milk. That is definitely not the case.

Breast milk and/or formula is a complete source of nutrition for your growing baby and should remain the primary source of nutrition for the first year.

Food should never take the place of a typical feeding session.

Always offer milk or formula first before giving your baby any solids.

How many times a day should a 6-month-old eat solids?

When you get the go ahead from your pediatrician, you may be tempted to just dive head first into the baby feeding escapades, a little restraint is okay though.

A typical 6-month-old can start with one feeding a day and then slowly increase as your baby gets used to it and shows eagerness and readiness.

Dinner was the easiest time for my family, but if you want to do solids at a different time of day, then go for it.

Just remain consistent with it and follow your baby’s lead for when to increase the amount.

Just remember, solids shouldn’t replace milk.

When should I introduce water to my baby?

You can certainly check with your doctor if you’d like to start giving water earlier, but babies ready for solids are also ready for water.

Since your baby is still drinking the same amount of breast milk or formula though, water isn’t actually necessary and giving too much can definitely cause problems.

Start off slow and only give an ounce or two during meals. This is a great time to start experimenting with something other than a bottle.

We skipped sippy cups and went straight to a straw cup. I really liked the Tommee Tippee straw cup because I could squeeze the sides just a bit and get the water to rise up the straw.

Doing that really helped my kiddo get the hang of drinking from a straw and he was a pro by 7 months because of it.

Tips for starting solids

Getting your baby started on solid foods is an exciting time. It can also be extremely messy.

Your baby will make a mess, a huge mess, many times over while he’s learning to eat real food. That’s pretty much unavoidable.

So, unless you want every single item of clothing to be completely covered in food stains, you’re going to have to get a little creative.

Smock

Bibs are a complete joke when it comes to food. At least they are in my household. I found smocks with pockets to be the best thing for us. They’re big so they cover all of his clothing and the pocket helps collect any dropped food. My son actually got a kick out of digging food out of his pocket to see what other goodies he could find after the meal was over.
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Apron

Another option is a full coverage apron. This thing is a little different than the smock because it actually attaches to the high chair. That means that anything trying to drop isn’t getting anywhere near the clothes. I haven’t used one before because it sounds like it might be a little more of a hassle, but it’s certainly a great option if you’re tired of doing laundry every day.
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Get Naked

If you just don’t want to deal with any of the clothing mess at all, you can always just strip your baby down for meals.

Doing this really isn’t as convenient when you’re out in public, but it’s definitely a sure-fire way to keep your baby’s clothes clean at home.

As long as it isn’t too cold in your house, your kiddo will be just fine and will have a great time playing around in his food.

Saving the Floor

Your baby’s clothes aren’t the only things that need saving. Your floor is also going to be a disaster. There’s just no way around it really. Your baby is going to drop food, a lot of food. You can pretty much go one of two ways with it, you can either make cleanup a little easier with a floor mat made just for that. Pretty snazzy if you ask me. Or you can simply employ Fido and let him clean up the mess for you. Totally up to you.
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Relax

The mess will happen.

Your child won’t like everything you give him.

Laundry sucks.

It’s really just a fact of life when it comes to helping your baby learn how to eat solid food.

I find it best to just roll with it and just see what happens.

Some Precautions

While feeding solids is fun, messy, and exciting, it is also not something to be negligent of.

Babies learning how to eat don’t have the same level of knowledge and experience that you do when it comes to food (obviously), they don’t know how to properly control their mouth or how to tell if a bite is too big for them to swallow.

While a baby’s gums are incredibly tough and can get through more than you would believe, babies still can’t be expected to chew through large bites of food without having the proper tools, aka teeth.

Choking is something that can happen and it is something that you should be very mindful of. While there is a difference than choking and gagging, it is still something that should be monitored carefully.

Allergies are also something to be wary of.

Trying a new food once every 3 days is a safe way to test out new foods and be able to watch for any possible allergens.

A little redness on the faces isn’t always a sign of an allergic reaction. My son’s face would get red (and still occasionally does) when he has too much cinnamon, spicy food, and even ranch dressing strangely enough.

These spices can be considered “hot” spices and can cause the skin to be irritated.

If you ever feel that your child is in distress and is having trouble breathing or swallowing, then call 9-1-1 immediately.

Choosing when to start solids

Deciding when your baby is ready to start eating solid foods is a big decision and one that shouldn’t be made lightly.

Though you might be ready to move on from that liquid only diet, your baby might not be. Follow your child’s lead and always, always, always consult your pediatrician before attempting to start your baby on any solids.

When you do decide to start feeding your baby solids, make sure you have a camera ready because those facial expressions are PRICELESS!!

So are you having trouble deciding when to start solids? Leave me a comment below or come join the conversation in our Facebook group.

 

Until next time!

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