When and how should we start solid foods? How much should we push?

What is the best time to start adding foods to our baby’s diet?  Our six month old Avery is mostly breast fed, and I think he’s ready.  But when I offer him a little food from a spoon, he only takes a bite or two, and then turns his head away.  He actually takes more from the sitter, but not that much. Should we push harder?

Babies can grow and thrive quite nicely on a breast milk diet throughout the first year of life.  However, most moms would be pretty tired if they were trying to produce enough milk for a baby who wasn’t eating anything else.  That’s because an active 6-12 month old often gets distracted while feeding during the day and may shift his nursing pattern to more feedings during the night.  So it’s reasonable to encourage your baby to start switching his exclusive diet to one that presents more options.

One way to decide just how much to encourage is by looking at where Avery is developmentally.  

Does Avery sometimes seem hungry despite regular feedings?  Does he seem to want to nurse more than 6 times in 24 hours? Some babies just graze all day and take in frequent feedings with not much volume. Does he have trouble maintaining interest in nursing during the day because the world is too distracting? You’ve probably learned that nursing in a quiet, darkened room or with a blanket covering Avery’s head helps—but if not, and he seems to be nursing more often (or waking up hungry during the night), that’s good evidence that it may be time to add other food to his diet. 

Is Avery able to sit up well with just a little support?  If a baby still needs to be cradled in your arms to eat aren’t as ready to be able to swallow solid foods easily. He needs good head control and ability to sit in an infant seat with his back almost straight.

More common before six months, a not-ready-to-eat baby will react to a bit of food or the touch of a spoon on his tongue by pushing out— the food goes all over his face instead of being swallowed. Messy for you, not much point for him. That’s different from the baby like Avery who will eat and swallow a small amount of food.  In Avery’s case, he’s probably just needing time to get used to eating. You may have to give him smaller bites or take more or even less time in between.  Your sitter may be more business like than you are--ask her what seems to work!

You might have noticed that Avery is tracking every bite of food you eat, watching as you chew and swallow, as if to say—“How about me?” That interest might be another sign of readiness, but it might just mean your baby is interested in watching everything you do.  Or, it may mean both!

The second half of the first year is the time to learn to eat, not to become a gourmet. Keep your life simple—one new taste every week or so is fine, but stick to what is easy to prepare.  

So if you think it’s the right time, here are the first steps:

• Start slowly! Almost all babies do best with one simple, slightly sweet but fairly bland first food. Ripe mashed banana, pureed sweet potato or carrots, or pureed pear or peach are common first foods.  Go easy on cereal since some babies will develop hard Bowel movements when cereal is introduced in too large a quantity. The first meal may be no more than a taste from a baby size spoon—some babies take a while to like the idea—or up to two tablespoons. After that, wait and offer again the next day. Why so slow? Because most babies need a bit of time to adapt their digestive systems. The next day, your baby will probably have a bowel movement that seems different—usually with a stronger odor—as his body adjusts. That’s not a problem, but going from an all liquid diet to solids gradually makes it less likely that your baby will have gas or become constipated. Allergic reactions are rare, but if your baby develops a rash, of course discontinue that food.

  • Don’t rush! It’s OK if Avery takes weeks to become more interested in food. Even if your baby loves his meals, you don’t have to go from zero to three solid feedings a day. Take your time, increase the amounts and frequency gradually. Let your baby decide when he’s done—he’ll tell you by shutting his lips or turning away. You can try pausing and then offering again in a minute. But after that, skip the feeding. The last thing you want in our overeating society is to have a child who eats when he’s not hungry!
  • It’s great when a baby loves to eat, but we don’t want them to eat so much that they lose interest in nursing (or his bottle for babies on formula).  The milk feeding has protein, fat, and the nutrients a baby needs to grow.  Fruits, vegetables and cereals ore not complete foods and won’t satisfy him as long.  
  • Most of Avery’s nutritional needs can be met by breast milk. The only exception is Vitamin D, a vitamin needed for optimal absorption of the calcium present in your milk. The best source of Vitamin D has always been exposure to sunlight, but as parents have been keeping babies in the shade and applying sunscreen to older children, we are seeing real cases of Vitamin D deficiency, leading to poor bone development.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies’ diets be supplemented with 400 IU of Vitamin D.