Starting Solids: a bittersweet milestone

Updated February 1st 2022

Starting solids is such an exciting milestone! Your baby has reached a new developmental stage and they are about to try foods other than breastmilk or formula for the first time. This milestone can also bring a lot of questions, worry and overwhelm. Questions about which foods to start with, baby-led weaning or purees, allergens, and more. This also brings a change in your feeding relationship which can make it bittersweet.

I am asked about starting solids all the time so I’m going to answer some very common questions I get around starting solids.

When can I start solids?

There’s so much different information on this one! You might hear anywhere between 4-6 months. 30 years ago 4 months was very common. There are many pediatrician’s out there providing outdated information to families so I am here to provide you with the current evidence.

The general recommendations from the World Health Organization as well as the Canadian Pediatric Society and the AAP is that breastmilk should be the exclusive form of nutrition for babies in the first 6 months of life. After 6 months, solids (also called complementary foods) can be introduced with breastfeeding continuing alongside for up to 2 years or when the child is ready to wean.

Solids are suggested when your baby is about 6 months old because their digestive system is much further developed to digest the new foods. Most of your immune system is within your gut. This also means their immune system is ready to handle other foods and protect their body against pathogens. The advice of 4 months old is very outdated. If your pediatrician recommended your baby start solids at 4 months because of weight gain concerns, connect with a lactation consultant. Starting solids will not correct a breastfeeding issue.

How do I know if my baby is ready?

While 6 months is the general guideline, it doesn’t mean that when your baby turns 6 months, they are magically ready for solids. All babies are different. Few babies are ready sooner than this and some are ready slightly later than this. This would also include babies born prematurely. We want to use their corrected age for beginning solids.

This is why it’s important to be watching your baby for cues he or she is ready for solids. These cues include:

  • Shoulder and neck muscles are strong enough for good head control (we want baby to be able to turn their head side to side without it flopping over)
  • Baby can sit up relatively unassisted 
  • Tongue thrust reflex is gone (this means they won’t automatically push food out of their mouth and ensures they can safely swallow food)
  • Baby can grab objects and bring them to their mouth
  • Greater interest in foods the family is eating (this alone does not indicate readiness)
  • May open their mouth if food is coming their way
  • You can still begin solid introduction if your baby is displaying the above sign of readiness but still does not have any teeth
Should I start with Baby-led weaning?

Baby-led weaning also called baby-led feeding, is a method of self feeding. This method helps babies learn to self-feed and explore their foods. This method of feeding also ensures the baby paces the feeding themselves and allows them to listen to their own hunger cues. Babies are very intuitive eaters and we want to continue to develop that when they begin solids. Allowing them to self feed really helps encourage this.

Purees was the gold standard of food introduction for a while and still a preferred way to begin for some. With puress, to encourage self-feeding, you can preload the spoon and allow your baby to pick it up and insert it into their mouth themselves (see below image).

If you are using the baby-led weaning approach, foods are generally offered in large strips until your baby develops the pincer grasp around 8-9 months. This is where they can use their first finger and thumb to create a “claw crab” and pick up smaller pieces o food. As a general rule, if you can squish the food between your fingers means it’s soft enough for your baby to mash with their gums. Because remember, your baby does not have to have teeth erupted to start solid foods.

Do I need to pump when my baby is having solids?

The short answer is no. As your baby gradually begins to consume more solids, they will slowly begin to consume less breastmilk and the feeding intervals may increase.  This can be a bittersweet moment for some. You baby is reaching a new and exciting milestone and at the same time, it’s going to change your breastfeeding relationship. Provided you continue to nurse your baby on demand, your body will gently down regulate your supply to match your baby’s needs. Yes, over time, breastmilk will be replaced with more solids. This may mean your baby now eats every 3 ½-4 hours instead of every 3. Each baby is different but continuing to follow your baby’s cues will mean your supply will adapt. Babies breastfeed for many reasons beyond nutrition. They will continue to nurse for food but also comfort, if they are sick, tired, upset etc.

If you’re also formula feeding, you may notice over time you need to make up smaller bottles or change the frequency of the bottles. Always follow your baby’s lead.

To learn everything you need to know to feel confident about starting solids grab a spot in my on demand class.

  • Includes all of the above as well as
  • How to introduce foods
  • What foods to start with
  • How to introduce allergens
  • The difference between choking and gagging
  • Danger foods
  • And more including lifetime access to the class and the e-book so you can go back and rewatch

Grab a spot in my on-demand class

References:

Canadian Pediatric Society. (2021). Feeding your baby in the first year. Caringforkids.cps.ca. Retrieved from: https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/pregnancy-and-babies/feeding_your_baby_in_the_first_year

Hetzel Campbell, S., Lauwers, J., Mannel, R., & Spencer, B. (2019). Core curriculum for interdisciplinary lactation care. Jones & Bartlett Learning

Infact Canada. (n.d). Complementary feeding: Starting solids. InfactCanada.ca. Retrieved from: http://www.infactcanada.ca/Complementary_Feeding_-_Starting_Solids.pdf

Newman, J., & Pitman, T. (2014). Dr. Jack Newman’s guide to breastfeeding. Harper Collins Publishers Ltd. 

World Health Organization. (2020, August 24). Infant and young child feeding. World Health Organization. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infant-and-young-child-feeding#:~:text=WHO%20and%20UNICEF%20recommend%3A,years%20of%20age%20or%20beyond

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