What is the best way to introduce solids? – By Jo Ryan

Starting a baby on solids can be an exciting time. It’s a lovely new phase of a baby’s life as they develop and grow. It can also be a bit stressful because there is so much information out there about when and how we should introduce solid food into a baby’s diet.

The biggest question I get asked around this topic is, “When can I introduce solids to my baby?”

If we look at the recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO), they recommend that that babies should be exclusively milk fed up to six months and then they should introduce complimentary foods, meaning solid foods, from 6 months. But this is obviously dependent on the baby and some babies may be ready before that. We are all different and so are babies. Some babies will be hungrier than others and so it is really important to watch your baby as they will let you know when they are ready. That said, you shouldn’t however, offer solid food to a baby under four months of age.

Some signs that your baby is ready for solids include:
• They can sit up well without needing support.
• Your baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (automatically pushing solids out of mouth with tongue).
• Baby has developed the fine motor skills to self-feed.
• They are willing to chew, even if they have few or no teeth.
• You baby shows an interest in your food and may try to grab food from your plate and put it in their mouth.

When you have decided to start solids, it can be hard to know what to offer. A lot of people start with the traditional purees, but in the last few years there is also the Baby Led Weaning (BLW) philosophy which has changed the way we look at feeding your baby.

If you haven’t already heard about it, BLW is a philosophy around introducing solids to your baby. The idea is that you let your baby feed themselves from the very beginning of introducing solids. It can mean that you skip all those purees and just let your baby feed themselves.

Some advantages of BLW are:
• BLW can be much more convenient for parents but it is messier!
• BLW is easier – purees are time consuming.
• BLW gives babies the benefits of exploring food themselves, having a bit of control over what they eat. This can mean that they will be able to cope with many different textures and flavours, that pureed diets don’t provide.
• It is also a great way for babies to learn to chew, and even though your baby may not have many, if any, teeth, those gums are very strong and they are able to munch on loads of foods.

However, BLW can be a little bit scary and nerve wracking–especially for new parents, largely because of the perceived risk of choking. It is worth knowing that babies have a very strong gag reflex that is designed to stop babies from choking. Research shows that babies who used the BLW method lost the gag reflex earlier as they were eating chunkier food much earlier than babies who were started on purees. Gagging is often worse for parents that it is for the baby.

Whatever you decided it is a good idea to start with one food only and offer that for a couple of days. If after that it is going down with a minimum of fuss, increase an extra food every day until they are having a decent amount of food. Try not to overload your baby’s system with too many new foods at once. Baby’s digestive systems need to develop enzymes to breakdown the food, so if you overload their system the food becomes difficult to breakdown and they might get constipated.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.

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