A complete guide to starting solids: here’s what you need to know

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Ah – parenthood, just as you feel like your feet are on solid ground, up comes a brand new hurdle to knock you back over. One of these hurdles, iconically being starting solids… Because there is so much information out there to learn, different products to buy and important things to look out for. It can definitely be a little LOT overwhelming.

But hey, you’ve made it through all the hurdles thus far – and with some patience, time and helpful tips – you’ll make it through this one too.  So, to help parents smash through starting solids, we’ve put together the ultimate guide in partnership with H&M, filled with everything you need to know. 

We’ve created this guide with the help of our H&M and YOU experts – Founder of Supermarket Swap and mum, Nabula Brdar and Paediatric Dietitian, Nutritionist and founder of Nourish Little Lives and mum, Anna Ritan. Together, they are here to help you cut through the noise and overwhelm of starting solids – and give you the realistic tips and information you need, to start your little one’s nutrition journey off right. 

Signs that your baby is ready to start solids

One of the biggest questions parents ask themselves as they approach that 6-month mark is “when are they ready to start solids?” Most babies start solids from around 6 months, The current evidence-based advice is to start at around 6 months of age when your child is developmentally ready, and that breastmilk (or infant formula) can meet 100% of your baby’s nutrition requirements until 6 months of age. Being developmentally ready for solids is key to a successful starting solids journey. Some of the signs that show they are ready to start solids include:

  • They have some sitting balance and a baby is able to sit with minimal support. Being able to sit can greatly influence your child’s ability to coordinate feeding skills, like bringing food to their mouth and the coordination of the jaw, tongue, and lips for effective sucking and munching on food. 
  • They have head control and are able to hold their head upright over their shoulders. Similar to sitting balance, good head control is also an important developmental cue for starting solids. 
  • They open their mouths when offered food. Around the age of 5-6 months, they should grow out of their tongue-thrust reflex, which protects them from choking and also helps them with breast and bottle feeding. When you hold a spoon up to them with food, you should see them open their mouths.
  • They are interested in food. Around this age, you may notice they’ve started having an interest in what mum or dad is eating. They may turn their heads to look at what is on your plate or reach out a hand for what you’re eating. 
  • They can show you when they are not interested in food. Whether they turn their head away, don’t show interest, clamp their mouth shut or push the spoon away.

According to Anna Ritan, ideally, your child should be able to do the above before you start solids. She explains how current expert recommendations show that at 6 months of age, nutrition requirements of some nutrients increase above what can be provided by breast milk alone – especially things like iron and zinc. But she also says, “don’t worry if you think they are ready and you try, but they are just not into it; stop and wait one week, and then try again.” 

However, if you have reached 7 months, and they still don’t seem ready for solids it is important to get in contact with your GP to follow up. 

BLW vs purees

Once you’ve determined if they are ready to start solids – next is figuring out what you’re actually going to feed them… There are three common approaches: baby-led weaning (BLW), purees, or a mix of both

Purees are the most traditional approach, but BLW has definitely been gaining steam over the past few years. 

What is BLW?

Baby-led weaning is pretty much what it sounds like – letting your baby lead the feeding process. Rather than directly spooning food into their mouths, BLW involves offering baby (age-appropriate) foods and letting them decide how much they consume. 

Typically this is a pretty messy affair and not a whole lot of food actually makes it into their mouths initially – but it’s all about letting them grab, touch and explore the tastes and textures by themselves. 

Either way… it’ll get a bit messy

No matter if you decide to go with BLW or purees or a mixture of both, Anna Ritan wants parents to remember that learning to eat takes time! She says, “as an average, babies can take 28 days (nearly 1 month) from the introduction of solids to eat 2 teaspoons.”

She explains how babies need to touch, smell, see and interact with food to get familiar with it before they eat it – remember eating requires the use of all 8 senses! So it’s definitely more about the experience in those early days. 

How often to feed them

In the early days, your baby will only take a small amount of solids at first. You can begin by feeding your baby solids once a day, and build up to giving them solids 2-3 times a day. 

Around 8-9 months, you can be giving your baby solids as part of a breakfast, lunch and dinner schedule. 

How much milk versus solids?

You should keep breastfeeding, or formula feeding until your little one is at least 12 months old. At the beginning of starting solids, you should give your baby breast milk or formula first, then move to try solids after the milk. As you reach the 9-month mark, you can swap to giving solids first, then breastmilk or formula. 

When they hit 12 months, solids should start to become their main source of nutrition. You can continue breastfeeding for as long as you like, but after 12 months your baby doesn’t need instant formula anymore unless advised otherwise by your doctor.. 

What foods to start with

Some great and easy foods to start with include pureed: apple, carrot, peaches, pears, pumpkins, sweet potato and zucchini as well as things like yoghurt and porridge. 

Or if you are wanting to go down the BLW route – more great options include cut-up, grated or mashed: avocado, banana, cheese, toast fingers, scrambled eggs, steamed veggie sticks, pasta or lamb chops. 

Find easy options 

Whilst we would all love to have the time and resources to hand make all of our baby’s food with organic, local ingredients – it isn’t always possible. 

Founder of Supermarket Swap Nabula Brdar is a mother of two, so she knows that while most of us have the best intentions to make our children home-cooked nutritious food, it’s not always realistic or possible. And it can make you feel really guilty – but at the end of the day, the most important thing is that they are fed and well. 

So, here are some of Nabula’s tips for shopping healthy at the supermarket:

1.        Don’t limit yourself to the baby aisle

2.        Try Greek yoghurt

3.        Look for foods with short ingredient lists 

Both Nabula and Anna also suggest trying to find easy things like pouches of yoghurt. But it’s important to read the ingredients and find one which is going to be a nutritious snack for your little one. 

They recommend looking for yoghurt pouches which:

  • Have no added sugars or free sugars 
  • Are full-fat – Full-fat dairy contains healthy fats which are essential for growth and development.
  • Have live cultures – Yoghurt can be an excellent source of probiotics for children.
  • Is a good source of protein – look for something which has 3-4g of protein per 100g of yoghurt.
  • Is a good source of calcium – 125mg of calcium per 100g is a good source of calcium.
  • Has no or fewer additives – try to choose a yoghurt pouch that doesn’t have any thickeners, stabilisers or added flavours and colours. 

How and should you introduce allergens?

Multiple studies show that introducing common food allergens before 12 months may reduce the chance of babies developing food allergies. Think of foods like eggs, peanuts, dairy, tree nuts, soy, sesame, wheat, fish and other seafood. 

Along with this, Anna Ritan notes that there are many important reasons for introducing allergens during the solids process. For one, many allergens are great sources of important nutrients. For example, Omega 3’s are often found in allergens like nuts, fish, eggs and dairy products. 

The basic principles of introducing allergens are: 

  • Choose a day where two adults with be available at home
  • Only introduce one new common food allergen at a time 
  • Avoid testing the food on the skin, this may increase reactivity to a food allergen
  • Ensure you have time to observe your child for up to one hour after you introduce the food allergen. 
  • Know the signs of a food allergic reaction. Allergic reactions usually occur quickly – within minutes, although they can take up to 1 hour. Other reactions to food may be delayed
  • Once a food allergen is introduced, unless your baby has an allergic reaction to the food, continue to give the food to your baby regularly (twice weekly), as part of a varied diet. Trying a food and then not giving it regularly may result in a food allergy developing.

For a first exposure mix a small amount (¼ teaspoon) of the food allergen into your baby’s usual food (such as vegetable puree) and observe for the next hour for any reactions. If there is no reaction you can gradually increase the amount next time.

For more info about how to safely introduce allergens, as well as signs to watch for check out these two resources:

Foods to avoid 

Whilst it is a good idea to introduce potential allergens, there are some foods which you should outright avoid in the solids process. 

Here is a condensed list of foods to avoid for little ones under 12 months of age: 

  • Honey – honey can have bacteria that can cause a severe illness called botulism in infants
  • Whole nuts – whole nuts can be choking hazards for children under 3. Instead try pastes, butters or spreads. 
  • Tea – tea can reduce their ability to absorb important nutrients like iron. 
  • Fruit juice – Eating the whole fruit is always best. 
  • Cow’s milk – Cow’s milk is not recommended for baby’s under 12 months, but it is okay in cooking. For drinking, give them formula or breastmilk instead. 
  • Reduced-fat dairy – full-fat dairy is important for growth and development. 
  • Coffee, caffeinated or sugary drinks. 
  • Dairy alternatives (e.g. soy, oat, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk) unless directly recommended by a health professional. 

Starting solids is a big milestone in any household – and it can get a little messy along the way. Just remember that this experience is brand new for both you and your baby, and learning to eat solids takes time, patience and practice… and before you know it, they’ll be enjoying and eating food like a pro.

This is a paid partnership between Kiindred x H&M. 

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