Introducing solids to babies

when and how to introduce solids to babies

Being a mom comes with equal parts of excitement and terror! Especially if you are a first-time mom. But it does get better with time (In some ways). Introducing solids is no exception to those feelings just mentioned. Given it is such an important milestone, you want to get it right. Making sure you get your baby to fall in love with flavours which are age-appropriate as well as healthy. Here is a “foodie” mom’s take and her experience with grooming three healthy babies who will make your mouth watery just by staring at them nibble on food. We can call her a bit of an expert as she is doing research on Public health Nutrition and Epidemiology She recounts her journey introducing solids, best practices and what worked for her.

When to introduce solids

I started by the book! I read a couple of books and blogs on when and how to introduce solids. WHO (World Health Organization) recommends six months of exclusive breastfeeding and that is what I did (thank God for a constant and heavy flow of breastmilk. Some women actually have it rough!). My paediatrician advised me to start solids at five months, she said babies get all their nutrients from breast milk except iron. At this late stage of infancy (five-six months) growth spurts happen and more iron is needed for growth and development. This cannot be gotten completely from breastmilk since the iron content in breast milk is very low. With this information, I was very nervous. But I was hell-bent on six months of exclusive breastfeeding and I did with my first two children. I actually waited till the day they turned exactly six months!

However, choosing to introduce solids wether at four or six months really depends on the baby. Some babies check all the boxes of necessities to start at four. These include but are not limited to-

  • Holding their head upright and steady
  • Sitting with support
  • Opening their mouths when they see food.

My last son was already doing all of these and more (snatching food from his sibling’s hands and always wanting to eat what other people were eating), so he started solids at five months. Always consult your paediatrician before introducing anything new to your baby.

Food preparation in introducing solids

If you would rather buy bottled food for your baby, most, if not all brands categorize their products according to months. It is easy for new mothers to follow and have an idea of where to begin when introducing solids. Should you choose to make food from scratch, here are a few pointers.

Firstly, plan ahead. Putting your baby on a schedule will make you and the baby such happy besties. While introducing solids, I found preparation easy and enjoyable because I had a whole feeding plan. I peeled and sliced most of the food ingredients beforehand and froze them in ziplock bags. I always had sliced or diced-

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Irish potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Salmon
  • Boiled beef
  • Chicken breast
  • Carrots,
  • Zucchini
  • A pack of mixed veggies

in the freezer. This made things really easy and handy for me and also gave me an overview of my baby’s food stock!

Slice and chop veggies and store to save time in baby meal preparation

It was very important to me the way I prepared the food. I stumbled on this amazing baby food steamer/processor (go to the baby essentials blog post for more information) which saved my life. I got mine from Philips Avent and it indeed was a game-changer. It’s important to steam/cook some fruits like apples, berries for easy digestion and to remove that sour taste. And most importantly, all nutrients are preserved because the food is only steamed and not boiled. I also add a teaspoon of raw olive oil or butter to all prepared baby meals, this is not only essential for the baby’s brain and organ development but also for energy and easy digestion (there is no research to back up this claim but I believe in it). I started with lunchtime feeding. In this light, the baby would have the rest of the day to digest the food.

Secondly, you need to know it will take some getting used to for the baby. Plus, there’s no guarantee that every meal you prepare will be well received. I made a few mistakes at the beginning, but I learned and improved with time and every new baby. Make room for adjustments. When introducing solids, it is important to note that babies would normally not eat much on those first days. One tablespoon of pureed veggies would be enough to last a whole afternoon. The portion size increases with time. By eight months, my daughter was eating about two to three tablespoons and would always have a snack immediately after. Mostly fruit mixed puree or her fruit nibbler.

Fruit nibbler and pureed fruit mixes…

When introducing solids, start with mono diets and walk your way up

My paediatrician advised to start with mono diets and wait it out before introducing any combinations. To be sure there are no allergies or any bad food reactions. I started a bit slow with just one food item per day for the first three days. Slowly, I started mixing and adding more ingredients and with time I got more creative. I still remember the first food I prepared for my daughter was sweet potatoes and some olive oil. Sweet potatoes were an easy way to start due to its availability and the fact that it is rich in nutrients (macro and micro) such as Vit A, Vit B, magnesium and also packed with fibres. During the first two weeks of introducing solids, I gave my baby only lunch. The rest of her meals were breastmilk. After the two weeks, I introduced three main meals and snacks in-between.

With regard to breakfast when I first introduced solids, I realized there aren’t many options. I mostly served-

  • Baby cereal porridge (with and without milk)
  • Oats during the first six to ten months
Oats and Fruits for a balanced breakfast…

The nutritional content of oatmeal cannot be overstated. It is packed with fibre and is thus very filling. I chose a wide variety of fruits to mix with the oats and porridge (without milk). Again, introduce one food at a time and observe. One of my baby’s favourites was pureed oats, apples and banana porridge. The steamer was indeed handy in getting all meals ready. Both breakfast and lunch.

Baby food combinations

  • Pureed sweet potatoes, spinach, and beef
  • Irish potatoes, peas, and carrots
  • Sweet potatoes, salmon and mixed veggies (carrots, peas, zucchini, broccoli)
  • Pumpkin, carrots, broccoli, and beef 
  • Rice/pasta, chicken and mixed veggies
  • Fufu and okra

I chose these combinations looking out for both consistency and a balanced diet. I found certain combinations too pasty (rice/any veggies and pasta/any other food) and others too watery (peas and potatoes). So adding a third food item always gave it the necessary balance. A week’s plan had to include a good dose of fish (mostly salmon) beef, chicken and veggies, the later at least twice a week. This further translates into a weekly consumption of-

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates  
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins (see food combinations)

And therefore ensures your baby is consuming the necessary nutrients for their growth and development. One other reason I’d rather make food than buy bottled foods is so I have control of the food combinations. Remember you want to introduce your baby to flavours which are part of your culture and household which they will continue to eat as they grow up.

Daily meal routine when introducing solids

  • Around 6 and 7 am – milk
  • Around 8 and 9 am – breakfast
  • 12 am-1 pm – lunchtime
  • Around 4 pm – snacks (fruits and age-appropriate baby crackers) and tea
  • 6 and 7 pm – dinner
  • 9 pm – milk

I did not plan meals per day, but I made an effort on the feeding time. I think everything else falls in place when you get this right (other daily activities such as naps and playtime). We eat at least six small meals a day and drink plenty of water and tea (in Germany we have teas for babies. I don’t know if it’s the case for other countries. Consult your paediatrician on what kind of tea to give your baby if you do not have baby tea in your area).

After introducing solids to your baby, they still require about five to seven hundred-millilitres of breastmilk or formula per day. After they turn one, you can switch to cow milk and they require three hundred and fifty millilitres a day. It is not easy to measure that if you are breastfeeding unless you pump the milk. I believe most of the time I was overfeeding the babies, which is totally OK. They say feed the baby as much as they can take and as often as they desire. Of course, the eating plan and sleeping hours change with time. The older they grow, the more they eat and play.

Some myths about introducing solids

There are lots of myths on what to give and not to give to babies when introducing solids. In the past, paediatricians recommended delays in introducing some foods for fear of allergies. Recent studies no longer recommend delaying a child’s exposure to foods to prevent allergies. On the contrary, it seems that eating some foods earlier may help prevent some reactions.

From personal experience, however, I would definitely stay away from citrus fruits during the first year or at least till around ten months.  I remember giving my daughter an orange when she was less than ten months. Immediately she finished it, she vomited so badly and that was the first and last time she ate an orange or any citrus fruit until after she turned one. Citrus fruits are very acidic and that may have been the cause.

A second myth is, ‘food prepared at home is more nutritious than bottled food’. The debate is ongoing but one thing is for sure, bottled food is mostly fortified with a lot of supplements which are age-appropriate. So while you may be serving your child a warm homemade meal, there is no guarantee that you would have included all the nutrients the child may need for their age. That is why it is important for me who would rather make the food to ensure I am serving weekly doses of nutrients.

Lastly, the common myth within the African community which my husband never stopped singing in my ears is “if you feed the baby with fufu (corn flour cooked into a thick paste with hot water) and okra he/she will get full and sleep all day”! But I never gave my kids early just for the sake of them swallowing it and sleeping all day. I wanted them to enjoy the many varieties of food I made for them (not that they would not have enjoyed fufu and okra). I did give them at around eight to nine months and they enjoyed it. But they didn’t sleep all day!

Remedies for constipating

Introducing solids can cause your baby constipation. Babies who start taking cow milk earlier than one year are also prone to constipate. This is because they find it hard to digest it due to its protein content. Avoid cows milk until your baby is one. Try serving your baby small amounts of water in lots of intervals. Also, when babies consume foods with high fibre, this tends to improve bowel movement which in turn relieves constipation. As mentioned earlier, oats, which are high in fibre, should be constantly present when introducing solids. In addition, grater apples and microwave for a minute or two and serve your baby to relieve constipation. If your child constantly suffers from constipation, talk to your paediatrician about it.

You are in this for the long haul…

Introducing solids to your babies is the beginning of their life long journey with food. You want to instil in them healthy eating habits. My advice to new mothers, keep trying different varieties of flavours and never give up. Or switch up your eating habits. Children are naturally curious and love to eat what other people are eating. Eat at the same time you feed your baby or have similar food (no salt) so they don’t feel like it’s something different from what they are having. For babies who aren’t foodies, always let them get hungry before giving them food(this may overlap with your feeding plan but as I said earlier, make adjustments as you go along). The chances they will eat when they are hungry are a lot higher than when you feed them when you think it is time to eat.

Another amazing trick is to mask flavours. I know a baby who only wanted to eat bananas given it was one of his first mono diets. His paediatrician advised whatever meal was made for him could be masked with half a banana. This was an awesome solution to both mama and baby problem! Every other day the six-month-old thought he was eating his favourite, bananas. But his mama was making all kinds of meals and masking them with a banana!

You are never alone on your journey. Talk with other mothers and get their ideas on how they navigated the great mild stone of introducing solids. We would love to read about your experiences in the comments, keep them coming.

Maria Adam Nyangasa