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Introducing Solids in Your Baby's Diet (aka Complementary Feeding)

Introducing your baby to solid foods at age 6 months

Chrisna is a Registered Dietitian with a special interest in Paediatrics and Maternity. She is registered with the HPCSA and ADSA and is a member of the GI foundation. She is also the proud mother of 2 beautiful girls. In this article she guides you through the sea of information on how to start your little one on solids. To find out more about Christina and her practice please go to leapmomsandkidz.co.za

Advising moms, on the introduction of solid foods, used to be straightforward. Start when your baby is 6 months old. One pureed food meal per day. Gradually move to thicker textures, and increased frequency of meals.

Then I had my own children.

And with age and experience came a bit of wisdom. I realized that some moms prefer a step by step, textbook style, set of instructions whilst others are happy to follow their instinct. Neither approach works all of the time.  Babies are little people and what works for one will not necessarily work for another.  Today’s success becomes tomorro’s failure. You will probably feel like giving up at some point.  

Do not despair!

This guide will introduce you to the basics of complementary feeding, and will give you some tips to guide you when it feels like nothing is working.

When do I begin to introduce solid foods to a child on a milk only diet?

The experts have trouble agreeing on a fixed time.  The World Health Organization (WHO) still recommends exclusive breastfeeding your child is 6 months old, and only then begin introducing solid foods, while The European Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (or ESPGHAN) recommends waiting until at least 17 weeks but to start no later than 26 weeks (that is just under 6 months).

But do I know my baby is ready?

Since the experts have different opinions, how will you know if you should start your child on solids before 6 months or not?  

Answer these 7 questions and find out.

  1. They sit upright without help or support
  2. They keeps their head straight when sitting and their neck is strong enough to turn their head to say yes and no
  3. They put their hands to their mouth
  4. They follow food with their eyes and they open their mouth for the spoon
  5. They close their lips over the spoon
  6. They move semi-solid foods to the back of their tongue (They don’t spit it out push it out with their tongue)
  7. They swallow semi-solids

If you answered yes to these 7 questions your child is ready for the introduction of solid foods into their diet.

Why wait to introduce non milk foods?

Babies’ digestive systems are not completely matured at birth and continues to develop during the first 6 months. Their kidneys are only able to cope with solid foods after 4 months and pancreatic amylase involved in starch metabolism is barely present up to 6 months. Babies are therefore at higher risk of developing short term complications like diarrhoea, food allergies and malnutrition before 17 weeks. Long term complications include obesity, high blood pressure, food allergies and arteriosclerosis.

It is naturally also quite difficult and stressful for a mother to feed a baby who is not developmentally ready.

Ok so why not wait longer?

Waiting too long could put your baby at risk of being deficient in essential vitamins and minerals which can cause poor growth, malnutrition and decreased immune protection. After 26 weeks your baby can no longer survive on milk alone.

Once you start, keep going! Sticking to one food for an entire week before moving on the next is old hat. The rule of thumb is 3 days. This gives you enough time to identify any allergic reactions to a possible culprit food.

How do I start and how much should I give?

One to two teaspoons at a time is sufficient. You want your child to be alert, slightly hungry and happy. Mornings tend to be the best time for this exercise.

Introduce any new food using these 3 steps

  1. Start with 1 to 2 teaspoons of the new food on Day 1
  2. Move on to more or less a tablespoon of the food on Day 2
  3. Let your child eat as much as they like of the food on Day 3.

There are no hard and fast rules to the specific amount of solid food a baby should have every day. Let your child’s appetite be your main indicator of the amount of food they are ready for (within reason). Watch your child closely, and learn their unique way of telling you they are still hungry or he has had enough (these are known as Hunger and Fullness Cues).

Start with one meal a day, once your baby is comfortable with this meal you can increase the frequency of solid food meals gradually. Progress onto a second (around 2 weeks) and a third meal as your baby’s intake increases. Snacks may also be added once meals are taken well.

As far as possible, isolate the foods you give your baby (especially the first few times) so your baby has the opportunity to get familiar with a wide variety of unique flavours e.g. spinach. Once your child is familiar with a food you can mix it with others to add variety to their diet.

Simple yes, easy… Maybe.