Earlier this week, I put out a Facebook call to fellow mommas regarding introducing solids to babies. The when. The what. The how. As Rafe rapidly approaches the four-month mark, I’ve realized I need to start thinking about nutrition outside the realm of my boobies in the coming months. : ) Our little family is traveling home to Tennessee for Christmas and, ideally, I’d like to start solids upon our return when Rafe is 6 months old. We’ll see how that plan goes!
One thing motherhood has reinforced for me is the importance of flexibility. Being in tune with your baby’s cues and tweaking your game plan as you go is imperative to staying sane and happy.
Just like with every aspect of parenting, there is no clear right or wrong when it comes to introducing solids to your baby but today I am sharing some great tips so that your baby gets the best start in this wonderful world of food!
I connected with today’s guest writer, Dr Carrie O’Neil, through blogging. We’ve become friends through our mutual interest in health and wellness, plus she is a new momma like me! Her son is only a couple of months older than Rafe.
She’s a wealth of knowledge on today’s topic so let’s get started!
Baby’s First Foods
There are numerous ways to introduce solids to your baby, and everyone has a different opinion. Well – there is no one right way. Even the scientific literature on the topic is evolving at a very fast pace!
There are two primary reasons for initially introducing solids to your baby. Firstly, you want to slowly get their digestive and detoxifying systems used to solid foods, rather than just milk. Secondly, you want to boost immune tolerance to foods and foreign proteins during a very time-sensitive window.
What I would like to discuss today is some of the best first foods to feed your baby when introducing solids, and why, so that you can make confident decisions about your child’s nutrition. My solids introduction recommendations are based on a number of factors:
- Experience and parental reports
- Nutritional knowledge – how carbohydrates, fats and proteins affect the body
- Gut health – the introduction of solids is paramount in stimulating the growth of good (or bad) gut bacteria, which has now been shown to have long-term health effects – the first three years appear to be the most significant in influencing a healthy gut development
- Immune system tolerance – studies have now made links between solids being introduced too early, or too late, and increased risk of allergies and metabolic issues
- Digestive and detoxifying systems ability to cope – these two systems continue to develop from birth until about 18-24 months of age, where they become more adult-like (though they aren’t completely adult-like until 4-5 years of age!)
Baby’s First Food Ideas and Why
- Great starters are zucchini, pumpkin, sweet potato
- These vegetables are easy to digest
- They are unlikely to cause an allergy
- They are somewhat bland in flavour, and allow the child to get used to swallowing a thicker texture than milk
- They are easy to prepare and store
- Puree fruits can be introduced once a few vegetables have been trialled
- Peeled apple or pear are a great first choice
- I prefer to recommend fruits secondarily to vegetables because they generally have a higher sugar content
- Most infants will initially prefer fruit over vegetables, and this is most likely due to breast milk being quite sweet – therefore they may appear to LOVE their fruits compared to their vegetables, but this is no reason to fill them with fruits!
- Many parental reports have suggested starting them on fruit rather than vegetables tends to lead to a stronger refusal of vegetables (which is stressful for everybody!)
- Fats – avocado, coconut oil, and flaxseed oil, olive oil, cod liver oil
- Oils and fats are fabulous for supporting healthy gut bacteria growth
- They tend to reduce bad bacteria growth and stimulate good bacteria growth
- There are a number of vitamins that are fat-soluble, meaning your infant receives these nutrients in the form that their body can use
- Fats are the precursors for many of the body’s hormones, and fuel sources, making them necessary for a healthy hormonal system
- Fats stimulate the hormonal system in a positive way, unlike the effects of white, refined carbohydrates (but this topic is another blog post, all on it’s own!)
- Aim for free range, hormone free, grass-fed meat and eggs – this ensures your child is getting the correct (and most natural) combinations of fats and proteins
- Most high protein foods also contain significant good fats, so in combination can lead to a very happy tummy and hormone system!
- Proteins are more difficult to digest than vegetables and fats, so wouldn’t be recommended as your child’s very first food
- Nuts should be soaked for 8 hours and dried to reduce phytins – this also softens them – both of which makes digestion easier
- When you are ready to introduce nuts, creating a nut-based yoghurt or cream sauce is a great place to start because it reduces risk and concerns of choking
- All grains should be soaked for a minimum of 8 hours and cooked
- Whole grains have a beneficial effect on the development of gut bacteria
- This effect is not the same as when white, refined grains are provided as food
- Brown rice and quinoa are my top picks
- These grains have a higher protein ratio, and are associated with long-term health benefits
- In fact, there are no beneficial effects of giving your child white, refined grains
- Anyone who is recommending white rice cereal as your baby’s first food is working off old recommendations, as there is no up-to-date scientific backing to this
- The only prevailing benefit is that they are generally fortified with iron, meaning your child may receive their iron requirements from it
- Proteins, fats and green leafy vegetables, as well as breastfeeding, will provide sufficient iron for your baby
My biggest suggestion to all parents is to follow your intuition when feeding your baby. You know your baby better than anyone else does, and you have maternal (and paternal) instincts to assist you in making the best decision for your baby. Solids introduction is a crucial step in setting your child up for a healthy life, but it does not need to be a stressful step. Please, inform yourselves, and then enjoy the process!
More about Carrie
Dr Carrie O’Neil is a chiropractor and wellness advocate for children. She works with parents in Melbourne to help them raise happy, healthy children, by providing chiropractic care and evidence-based health advice covering aspects of nutrition, natural medicine, and lifestyle factors. You can find her blog here and read more about Dr Carrie’s program, teaching you how solids can affect your child’s health here.