Starting Solids Is A Cinch When You Introduce Real Foods
I once attended a mother’s support group meeting where conversation, naturally, turned to questions about feeding. I can’t remember what the exact question was that day, but I remember the facilitator remarking that most parents she talked to these days are almost paralyzed with worry about making the right baby care choices and that the two areas most fraught with worry are feeding and sleeping.
I knew she wasn’t exaggerating. I was just thankful that feeding wasn’t something I lost any sleep over (because I wasn’t getting much sleep to begin with). After introducing solids to my two kiddos and observing many of my peers go through that stage with their own babies, I have no answers for why I was decidedly chill about almost everything related to food (sleep was another story, of course!).
Online and in real life I hear new parents express dread, nervousness and stress about the process of starting their babies on solids. I am so relieved that I didn’t ever feel that way. Sure, I was a little uncertain at first because I didn’t know what to expect or how to really begin. But I definitely wasn’t paralyzed with worry.
When my first baby was approaching six months, I got an invitation from my health region to attend a session on starting solids. It was free and I’d had great help on other matters from public health, so I decided to go.
I now credit that session with helping establish a confident and enthusiastic approach to solids. We learned about Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility, all about the latest findings and research related to infant feeding, and lots of myths were dispelled. Strawberries? They’re fine! Egg whites too! Peanuts? Well, researchers actually think that unless you have a family history of allergies, waiting to introduce them might actually cause sensitivity. In fact, the session leader explained, other than honey for babies under 1—and of course, choking hazards and junk food—pretty much any food is fine for babies.
Learning that molars are definitely not required for eating solid foods was something of a revelation, but it makes sense—if you’ve ever had your finger chomped on by a tiny mouth, you know that baby gums are hard and perfect for mashing up food. Another helpful thing I learned was that gagging is not choking. Gagging is pretty common as babies get used to the sensation of swallowing solids. And gagging doesn’t mean they don’t like what they’re eating.
I found all that information quite empowering and reassuring. Armed with valuable new knowledge, my husband and I opted to introduced eggs and meat first, instead of cereal—the idea of iron-rich protein as a first food was just starting to become popular in the parenting literature. Before long we added fruits, veggies and cereal too.
When we looked back on it later, we realized our unspoken goal was to get our babies eating regular food—the food we, as the parents and family cooks like to eat—as soon as possible. Not that we were rushing them, we just didn’t see the need for months and months of spoon feeding (it might be tidier, but it’s way more work!).
We learned that this style of introducing solids that were doing somewhat intuitively had a name: baby-led weaning. The idea with baby-led weaning (weaning being the UK term for introducing solids, as opposed to stopping breastfeeding) is to allow your baby to be in control of the food they intake because they are feeding themselves from the beginning (no purees!).
Sometimes we’d make portions of things like steamed sweet potatoes for the little ones and hard-boiled eggs and omelets were quick and easy go-tos. And I definitely still bought the occasional jar of baby food and mixed it into yogurt and fed them by spoon every now and then. But mostly we just put chunks of whatever we were already eating on the high chair tray and let them go to town.
Was it an unholy mess? Absolutely. But they also became enthusiastic eaters of basically everything we already ate, including things that in North America we assume kids will turn up their noses at, like Thai and Indian curries.
Another thing that I think helped me be decidedly un-anxious was the concept of “solids before one are just for fun.” The idea being that before the age of one, the bulk of a baby’s diet should be made up of breastmilk or formula. The first months of solids aren’t meant so much for nutrition or calories so much as just learning to eat and experimenting with different flavours and textures. Sometimes people seem to get really concerned with blending foods in certain pairs to make sure all nutrients are optimally combined—to me, that’s making it needlessly complicated!
When my first was a month or so into eating solids, I remember writing an email to a friend who was at the same stage, saying I was enjoying it because it was “something to do” in the day. Those first months are exhausting and monotonous with the constant rotation of nursing, diaper changes, soothing… just surviving!
Starting solids turned out to be not that much work, and actually fun and exciting. For my babies, it was the first steps towards their independence and learning their own tastes.
And as a bonus, the pictures are adorable.