WHO recommends that an infant should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives. Mothers who choose to feed formula milk or introduce top feed should also continue this for six months. However, once the baby reaches the six-month mark, it’s time to slowly introduce solid food. Here’s all you need to know about introducing new food groups to your little one.
When should you start solids for your baby?
It is recommended that you introduce solids at the age of six months. However, it is not a rigid rule to start solids as soon as your baby is six-month-old. Some babies start accepting solid food and self-wean themselves. That is, they reduce their intake of breastmilk. At the same time, many babies continue depending on breastmilk as their primary food source even beyond six months. So it is perfectly alright to follow your baby’s pace when it comes to introducing solids.
How to know your baby is ready to start solids?
Below are some of the signs that a baby will show that indicate she is ready to start solid food.
Baby shows interest in the food everyone around her is eating.
Baby can sit upright with some support on a chair and can hold her head up herself.
Baby opens up her mouth for a new food or a spoonful of food and closes her mouth once the food is in.
Baby shows interest by chewing new foods you give her.
Baby is eager to eat more food even after their regular feeds (breastmilk or formula).
What to do if the baby is not ready to start solids?
If your baby is not ready to start solid food, she will indicate this by rejecting new foods. She might not open her mouth when you bring a new food or spoon near her. She might also not swallow food and might try to spit it out.
If this happens, don’t worry. Some babies take time to accept new tastes and textures. Do not force-feed the baby. However, keep trying to introduce solids every few days till the baby starts showing interest. It also helps to let the baby sit with the family at the dinner table so they can see everyone around them eating food.
Remember, mummy, that the goal at this point is not to make the baby eat a lot of solid food but to let her understand more about food and help her form a healthy relationship with food.
What to feed your baby when starting solids?
When the baby is just starting with solids, soft foods such as smooth purees are a good start. You can make purees from vegetables, fruits, cereals, lentils, meat, etc. or experiment with a combination of these food groups.
Fruits like bananas can be pureed directly. For vegetables such as broccoli or a hard fruit like an apple, it is best to steam and then puree to get a smooth texture. Lentils, rice, chicken, fish, potatoes, etc. should be well-cooked before you puree them. It is a good idea to mix food groups such as brown rice and chicken or a mixed fruit puree for some variety. Experiment with a few different foods until you find combinations that your baby loves.
Care to take while giving solids to your baby
Do remember, though, that the food you prepare for your baby does not need any seasoning - not even salt. Your baby's taste buds and digestive system are still developing. Hence, they only need bland food. Also, while natural sugars from fruits are good for the baby, they don’t need sugar added to their fruit purees or cereal.
The babies also don’t need a lot of oil at this point. So, when you cook food such as vegetables or meat, bake, boil, or steam only. Also remember to remove seeds, piths, or hard skin from vegetables and fruits. The meat you feed your baby should be deboned and skinned.
You also need to look out for any allergic reactions when a baby starts trying new foods. Skin rashes, swelling on the face, mouth, or tongue, vomiting, or diarrhoea could be signs that the food is not agreeing with the baby. If this happens, take your baby to the paediatrician to get a proper diagnosis. You might also want to discontinue the food you think might have caused this reaction.
Some foods to avoid include:
Fish with high mercury content
Foods with artificial flavours, colours, or preservatives
Processed food such as cheese with high salt content
Unpasteurised dairy products
How to feed solid food to the baby?
Below are some tips to make meal times happy for your baby. The food habits that your baby forms now can affect their food choices as an adult. Hence, it’s a good idea to keep meal times happy and stress-free.
Babies thrive on routine. If you can set a mealtime routine for the baby, she will come to recognise when it's time to have a meal and would be more accepting of the new tastes and textures you treat her to.
Getting a high chair for the baby is a good idea. A high chair lets the baby strapped in and hence gives her the chance to focus on the food without too many distractions. It also helps the baby sit upright while eating, thus preventing the risk of choking.
Don’t force-feed the baby. Also, don’t use distractions to feed the baby.
Keep mealtimes relaxing and be patient with the baby. Let her take her time eating and experiencing food and do not rush her to finish her meals.
Take cues from the baby to understand how much food she needs. Babies rarely overeat; so if the baby stops eating, that means she is full.
Should you stop breastfeeding when you introduce solids?
Introducing solids does not mean you need to stop breastfeeding. You should continue to breastfeed for as long as both you and the baby prefer. Mother’s milk is high in nutrients and antibodies and will continue to provide good nourishment to your baby even after they start eating solids.
Your baby knows the best what she wants. So, by all means, introduce solids at six months. But do take cues from your baby to understand if she is ready. At six months, your baby will still depend largely on breastmilk for her dietary needs. So continue augmenting regular feeds with solid foods. As the baby shows signs of preferring solids, gradually start increasing the quantity of solids, while also supplementing with breastmilk according to the baby’s demand.
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