In this guest post, Susan Macfarlene discusses weaning baby along with how and when to introduce solid foods. Introducing solids to your little one can be a time of great excitement and even greater angst. Nutrition myths and misinformation abound online, and many parents feel pressure to feed their child a “perfect diet” (which, by the way, does not exist). While solids provide an important source of energy and nutrients for your growing baby, they also help your baby to develop his oral motor skills, reduce his risk of allergies, and explore and develop his taste preferences. To help you make the transition from breast or formula to solid food, I’ve answered the most common questions I receive from clients below.
When is my baby ready for solids?
Solids should be introduced around 6 months of age when your baby shows signs of developmental readiness, including:
- good head control
- able to sit unsupported
- able to show hunger (leans towards food)
- able to show satiety (turns head away from food)
- able to pick up food and put it in the mouth
Adding solid foods to your baby’s diet not only ensures energy and nutrient needs are met, it also helps with the skills of chewing and swallowing.
What foods should I introduce to my baby?
Regardless of the type of diet your family follows (i.e. vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, etc.) a baby’s first foods should be iron rich to prevent anemia and replenish depleted iron stores. The following table lists both animal and plant-based sources or iron; offer a variety of these foods at least twice per day to your baby.
|Plant-based Sources of Iron
|Iron-fortified infant cereal
||5.6 – 7 mg
|Extra firm tofu (cooked)
|Nut butter (almond)
|Seed butter (pumpkin)
|Animal-based Sources of Iron
|Low-mercury fish (salmon)
|Source: Dietitians of Canada. (2011). Meeting Your Baby’s Iron Needs (6-12 Months). Available by subscription only.
Iron needs between 7-12 months of age are 11mg per day. Vegetarian and vegan infants may have iron needs up to 80% greater than non-vegetarian infants.
Once your baby is accepting a variety of iron-rich foods, you can offer grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy (avoiding cow’s and goat’s milk until 9 months of age and soy milk until 12 months of age) in any order. Your baby’s food should also be made without added sugar or salt.
When it comes to potential food allergens, including soy, eggs, mustard, peanuts, seafood, tree nuts, and wheat, there is no need to delay introduction beyond 6-9 months. Doing so may actually increase your child’s risk of developing a food allergy by lowering her tolerance to these foods. However, it is recommended to introduce potential food-allergens one at a time, with a two-day observation window to allow for monitoring of potential symptoms.
At 6 months of age, water may be offered in an open cup to infants. If juice is offered, it should be in an open cup, not a sippy cup or bottle, with no more than ½ cup being consumed per day.
Foods that should not be offered to your baby due to safety concerns include:
- Honey (until age 12 months)
- Unpasteurized dairy products
- Unpasteurized juice
- Cold smoked fish
- Cold deli salads
- Lunch meats not reheated to 74ºC
- Raw sprouts
- Undercooked or raw eggs
- Fish high in mercury (shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy, escolar, Albacore tuna)
How much and how often should I offer solids to my baby?
While introducing solids, continue breastfeeding your baby until 2 years of age and beyond. Formula-fed babies may wean off formula between 9-12 months, provided they are consuming adequate amounts of solids, including iron-rich foods at least twice per day.
When first introducing solids, offer a small amount (i.e. ½ to 2 tsp) with breast or formula feedings, or in between as snacks, totaling 3-5 feeding opportunities per day. Let your baby’s hunger and fullness cues be your guide, recognizing that the amount of food that baby consumes will vary day-to-day.
From 9-12 months of age, increase the frequency and amount of food that is offered (i.e. 2 tbsp to ½ cup 4-5 times per day). By age 12 months, your child should be consuming a variety of textures on a regular schedule.
Texture-modification or baby-led weaning (BLW)?
Traditional advice to parents is to offer pureed, minced, and mashed semi-solids as baby’s first foods. Progression to lumpier textures should occur quickly with baby consuming soft finger foods by no later than 9 months of age.
An alternative, and equally acceptable, approach to offering solids is BLW. In BLW, babies feed themselves from the food you offer using their fingers, and later, cutlery. Acceptable foods to introduce to your baby include:
- cooked vegetables
- meat, chicken, low-mercury fish
- well-cooked eggs
- rice and pasta
- beans and lentils
If you choose to follow the principles of BLW, ensure that food is offered safely (as sticks or strips) and that your baby is always sitting upright in her highchair with parental supervision.
What milks are safe for my baby to consume?
Cow’s or fortified goat’s milk should not be offered before 9 months of age as it can displace other iron-rich sources of food. Once your baby is 9 months, whole cow’s or goat’s milk can be used as your baby’s main milk. Do not offer your child more than 3 cups (750 mL) of cow’s or goat’s milk per day.
If you choose to avoid cow’s or goat’s milk, the only suitable replacement is full-fat, fortified soy milk. At 12 months of age, soy milk may be introduced in your child’s diet, provided alternative sources of fat, protein, iron, and B12 are included (for vegan/vegetarian infants). Other types of plant milks, including rice, coconut, almond (and homemade versions of these) should be avoided as they are too low in fat, calories, and protein.
Does my baby need supplements?
Babies receiving formula do not require any supplements, while breastfeeding infants need a daily vitamin D supplement of 400 IU. In northern latitudes, such as Canada, continuing a vitamin D supplement of ~600 IU per day is worthwhile given the challenges in meeting vitamin D through diet and sun-exposure.
In addition to vitamin D, breastfeeding vegan infants are advised to take a vitamin B12 supplement (5 mcg per day or 50 mcg once per week). Moms of vegan breastfeeding infants should also ensure that they are supplementing with adequate vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine, and DHA.
Have a nutrition question? Let Susan know by leaving a comment below!
Dietitians of Canada. (2018). Infant Nutrition – Complementary Feeding Practice Guidance Toolkit. Available through subscription only.
British Columbia Provincial Health Services Authority. (2016). Pediatric Nutrition Guidelines (Six Months to Six Years) for Health Professionals. Available from: http://bccfp.bc.ca/news/pediatric-nutrition-guidelines-six-months-to-six-years-for-health-professionals/