Your new foodie

There are many different opinions about starting solids. Five pediatricians may give five different recommendations. Five different books will say all kinds of different things. Your friends have different stories about their babies’ first foods. Your grandma added cereal to your dad’s bottle the first day home from the hospital and she swears by it — “if you want your baby to sleep through the night.”

The truth is, there’s no exact right time. There’s no perfect first food. Just as it is with early feeding — breastfeeding, formula-feeding, pumping/bottle feeding and everything in between — this next phase of feeding solids involves a
spectrum of experiences. 

Where does that leave you? As always, my advice is rooted in YOUR instincts, your connection with your baby (and a dash of common sense). 

Timing isn’t everything.

Looking to start solids at a specific age — 6 months is often the recommendation — is less important than looking at Baby’s readiness. Knowing your baby and watching your baby is the true timeline of all parent-led milestones, especially starting solids. Signs that Baby might be ready to experiment with solid foods include:

  • The ability to sit up for long periods without assistance;
  • Strong neck and back control;
  • Watches you move your food from your plate to your mouth;
  • Imitates your mouth movements as you eat;
  • Attempts to grab food from your plate or reaches for your food.

It’s important to understand that babies don’t really need solid food for nutrition until they’re 12 to 16 months old, particularly if they’re exclusively breastfeeding. Solids in the first year of life are just extras — they’re for practice, experimentation and fun. 

Where to begin? 

Once your baby shows interest in table foods, you may feel confused as to which to give her. Though she seems hungry for your rare steak and crusty baguette, you’re fairly certain those aren’t appropriate first bites. 

Some feel that starting with sweet foods like pears and applesauce is a sure-fire way to get Baby to eat with pleasure. Others believe that it’ll lead to a lifelong sweet tooth. 

I don’t believe the decision is that crucial. However, I do favor allowing Baby to handle her own food. Shoveling jarred purees into your child’s passive mouth isn’t the point. Remember, first foods are for exploration, not nutrition. And exploration includes touch. 

You don’t need to worry about finishing the jar. You don’t need to fret if more gets on her face than in her belly. 

Safe, soft foods that make good firsts include avocado, mashed bananas, sweet potatoes, peaches, pears, applesauce, barley cereal and oatmeal. Overcooked black beans, shredded cheese and soft, small pieces of bread are fun next steps after the eruption of teeth. 

It’s recommended parents try one food at a time and wait five to seven days before introducing another new food. This is to watch for allergies. Signs of food allergy in babies include rash, diarrhea and mucus. Call your doctor immediately if Baby has trouble breathing or experiences tongue or lip swelling or a loss of consciousness. 

Remember to have fun with this — and also be prepared to feel some misgivings. Any ingestion of food outside of breastmilk is considered the beginning of weaning, and that may bring up some unexpected emotions from the nursing mother. 

This is one of many bittersweet transitions. And while breastfeeding may continue well beyond those initial sloppy attempts at eating avocado, it’s normal to have mixed feelings about your changing baby. 

Jen Wittes is a marketing director, writer, certified postpartum doula and mom of two living in St. Paul.