Is it Time to Introduce Solids?
In those early weeks of breastfeeding, your baby wanted to nurse all the time and it seemed like you’d never get a break. Now that your baby is a little older, feedings are more predictable and are beginning to be more widely-spaced. Does this mean that your baby is weaning? What is baby-led weaning? How does it relate to starting solids? How will you know that your baby is getting enough milk and solids?
Changes in feeding patterns
As your baby learns to nurse, they get more efficient at it. Feedings that once took 30 minutes or more are now done in no time at all. Plus, your baby has probably started to space out feedings - no longer eating every two hours, but sometimes going 4 or more hours between feedings. While your newborn needed to eat eight to 12 times per day, your six month old may be down to only five or six feedings. As long as your baby is growing and meeting developmental milestones, these shorter or less frequent feedings shouldn’t be a concern.
While less numerous feedings are normal, it’s highly unusual for a baby younger than age one to wean themselves completely from the breast. Occasionally babies have periods where they nurse more or less frequently than normal, and some babies may go on a ‘nursing strike’ where they need to be coaxed back to the breast. But until age one, breastmilk should still be the predominant source of calories.
Ready to start solids
Just like with breastfeeding, if you watch your baby not the clock (or calendar in this case), you’ll be able to tell if they're ready for solids. Sometime between four months and six months, your baby may start to show signs that they’re ready to try something more than their typical breastmilk diet. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. They suggest introducing solids around six months of age, though breastmilk should remain the main source of baby’s nourishment until age one.
Signs that your baby may be ready for solids include:
They are around six months old
They can sit without support
They can pick up small objects with their thumb and first finger (called the pincer grasp)
They no longer push food out of his mouth with their tongue (they’ve lost the tongue-thrust reflex)
They’re very interested in what you’re eating, even reaching for foods or watching each forkful move from your plate to your mouth while mimicking your mouth movements
While some babies are ready before six months, other babies may not be ready until seven, eight or even nine months. Continue breastfeeding on demand to be sure your baby is getting enough to eat and follow their cues for when they’re ready for more. If your baby resists solids the first time you try or they spit them right back out, try again in another week or so. Experts say it sometimes takes 10 to 15 tries with a new food before a baby accepts it.
If you’re waiting until your baby is truly ready for solids, though, you may be able to offer small chunks of soft foods and just let your baby self-feed. This is often referred to as ‘baby-led weaning.’
Think of solids before age one as an experiment in taste and texture, but don’t expect your baby to be eating platefuls. Start with once a day (or even once every few days) offering a tablespoon or so of solids. These early feedings should consist of single ingredient meals, and over time you can combine flavors or add new foods. Over the course of several months, slowly increase the frequency, variety and amount of solid foods while continuing to breastfeed on demand.
Some moms choose to breastfeed before offering solids. Some breastfeed after. And some just offer solids in between their baby’s typical nursing times. This may take some trial and error to see what works best for you and your baby.
During your baby’s first year, solids should be complimentary, meaning they will not replace feedings at the breast but will be in addition to regular breastfeedings.
Most pediatricians will recommend starting with packaged single-grain baby cereal mixed with some expressed breastmilk for baby’s first solid food, then moving on to pureed single-ingredient foods. You might offer pureed foods that you can buy at the grocery store or that you can make at home.
If you’re waiting until your baby is truly ready for solids, though, you may be able to offer small chunks of soft foods and just let your baby self-feed. This is often referred to as ‘baby-led weaning.’ With this method, you can place some foods in front of your baby and they can feed themselves, allowing them to decide if and how much to eat. This allows your child to control when to stop eating (which may prevent obesity), refine their hand-eye coordination, and learn to chew textured foods (rather than just swallowing purees). You can give them a soft spoon, but don’t expect them to be proficient with it for quite a while.
Great first foods include:
Baked sweet potato
Well-cooked, soft meat (beef, chicken, turkey)
Whole grain bread or cereal
When your baby is nine or ten months old, you can add yogurt and cheeses (if you don’t have any family history of dairy allergy). Wait until age one to add milk, eggs, and citrus fruits.
If you are interested to learn more about baby-led weaning, these two websites are dedicated to research and teaching about the topic:
Offer new foods at least a few days apart so you can watch for signs of allergy, such as a rash anywhere on the baby's body (including a diaper rash) or a runny nose. You can then wait a week and try the food again. If your baby has the same reaction, you can eliminate that food until your baby’s body has had some more time to mature.
While your baby has a very well-developed gag reflex, you never want to leave them alone when eating solids.
If your baby is still nursing on demand, there’s no need to offer any type of drink when eating solid foods. You can offer a cup of water so your baby can begin to learn how to use a cup, but the extra fluid isn’t necessary. The AAP recommends parents begin introducing a cup around six months so that by age one your baby is able to handle a cup on their own. Some experts advise rather than offering a “sippy cup” you instead teach your baby to drink from an open cup or a straw.
Starting solids is often a messy time. But it’s also a social time. As your baby gets older, offer solids at the same time you sit down to a meal. Your baby will be learning that mealtime is about conversation and connection. This sets the stage for a wonderful tradition of family meals you can continue throughout childhood and adolescence.
If you have more specific questions and would like expert advice from an IBCLC for your individual breastfeeding questions, check us out!
Subscribe to Diva Diaries, to get more helpful, current, evidence-based breastfeeding resources.