For those who already know the basics, feel free to skip to learn when to feed solid food.
What I knew before I started solids:
1. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends starting solids (mushy solids of course) around 6 months of age because children should be exclusively breastfed for 6 months and there are doctors who believe that food allergies can be increased if solids are started too early. However, this research on allergies is not conclusive (and is even more unreliable for people without a family history of allergies).
2. Most American pediatricians recommend that solids be started between the ages of 4 and 6 months, as iron and vitamin D are nutrients that breastfed babies tend to be deficient in (formulas have this added in).
3. Before 6 months, children are only learning to eat, even when solids are introduced. Breast milk and solids should be their primary form of nutrition. (The amount you are feeding your child should not go down even with solid food.) Some moms believe this to be true till 1 year but medically, your child should be getting 3 meals in addition to breast milk or formula by 9 months of age.
4. Foods should be introduced one at a time so that if your child does have allergies you are not guessing to find out what caused it. Each new food should be consumed for 3 consecutive days.
5. You can continue to feed foods that your child does not have a reaction to, but add new foods every 3 days.
6. A number of cultures start with rice cereal but there is no evidence that one form of food is better than the other. You can start with veggies, fruits or cereal.
7. Some people advocate that you should start with vegetables as fruits can make children susceptible to getting a sweet tooth. However, other experts state that a predisposition to sweet things is predetermined by genes and food exposure in the womb so, what you start with is irrelevant.
8. Your child should be: able to hold their head steady, sit steady when held (or in a highchair), show an interest in food, and have lost their extrusion/tongue-thrust reflex (this is when they keep sticking their tongue out to avoid choking on things at an early age).
9. Some parents believe that their child walking up more or feeding more is a sign that they need food. Maybe so, but this could also be a growth spurt and there is no reason why they cannot get more food just from you. It could also simply be a sleep regression, or a habit that has developed from needing food in the middle of the night while younger.
10. You should feed your baby solids just after breast milk or formula but while they are still alert and awake.
11. Your child could sleep more with solids, or wake up more (with gas from the solids). Both reactions are completely normal.
12. Even the most benign vegetables can cause gas in an infant's virgin belly and if they do, cereal can help.
13. Cereal should be mixed with breast milk or formula, whatever your child is used to.
14. Expose your child to different foods and textures so that they learn to appreciate a variety of flavors.
15. If your child does not want to take a spoon, start by using your finger as their first spoon as that is most familiar to them.
16. Their tummies are the size of their fists, so do not be surprised if they eat very little.
17. While they learn to eat, it can be messy.
18. You should not overfeed your baby as they will learn to ignore their body's hunger cues and later eat too much or too little.
19. Don't be afraid to stash the food if your baby is not hungry and try again later.
20. You will know your baby is full when: they turn their head away or refuse to open their mouths.
21. Foods to avoid until 1 year of age: cow's milk, wheat, strawberries, nuts or egg whites (can cause allergies), honey (can cause botulism), chocolate or caffeine (do you really want to anyway?), unpasteurized cheese (too much bacteria), shellfish, and too much juice (more sugar than nutrition, healthier to give baby the fruit). Note: Strawberries in packaged foods (like Ella's kitchen) are heated to a point where the allergens are destroyed.
22. Is it necessary to buy organic food? No it is not, most baby food only uses ascorbic acid (this is vitamin C) as a preservative so do not worry that you are putting preservatives into your child if you do not buy all organic. However, there is no harm in being safe if it is within your means and easily available to you. For the dirty dozen (fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides), stick to organic. These are: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, bell peppers, nectarines, cucumber, cherry tomato, snap peas and potato. Most of these are not first foods anyway.
23. Take out the quantity of food that you want to serve and keep the rest aside. Do not put the contaminated spoon in the clean food or you will have to throw away whatever is left.
24. Best first vegetables based on being non-allergenic and nutritious: Sweet potato, carrot, winter squash, and then peas and string beans (greens come later as they can be gassy).
25. Best first fruits: Apples, Bananas, Avocado and Pears. Basically, there is an endless supply of information out there, and as you can see there are multiple sides to every story (and theory). At the end of the day you need to do what feels right for you and your baby. Below is what I decided to do.
The decisions I made:
1. I bought all the essentials I needed - wipeable bibs, plastic spoons, suction bowls, secure highchair, and finally, the food.
2. I choose to buy all my baby food. Having set the microwave on fire twice in the last year (don't ask me how, I have no clue!), I didn't want to experiment my culinary prowess with my child. However, this completely your decision, there is no right or wrong, it is what works for you. If you choose to buy, check expiry dates and refrigeration and heating instructions carefully.
4. I did however, test to see whether his tongue thrust reflex was gone. I did so by feeding him milk with a spoon. Most of it did come out but it could have also just been the consistency. I did discover though that he loved the spoon, and was trying to move his face toward it for more (even though he had just been fed till he stopped himself).
5. I held out almost another month, his sleep regression ended, and we went on vacation and came back. A few days before he turned 5 months I decided to start, mostly because I knew he was ready for it and interested in food, and a little bit because I was excited to see his reaction to food and also did not want to start solids too close to our moving date (just after he turns 6 months).
6. I knew I was going to start out with vegetables. I wanted to start with something more nutritious than cereal (even though it is not as filling), and less sweet than fruits.
7. I decided to mix cereal and most of his first foods (definitely all vegetables) with breast milk (eventually only 1 ounce) so that the taste is more familiar and the food is more easily digested.
8. I gave him sweet potato for the first three days, carrot for the next three, apple for the 3 after that (with carrot for dinner), and banana for three after that (with sweet potato for dinner). We then did three days of winter squash for lunch (alternating carrot and sweet potato for dinner), and are now working on a peach and banana mix for lunch (will do veggies for dinner).
9. I switched to two meals a day after week 1, because cereal at night is helping him sleep better (even though he isn't feeding any less from me).
10. Once a food has no reaction or allergies and is cleared (by you), you can add other things to it. It's fine to mix foods as long as you introduce only one new one at a time and know at any given point what the new food is.
11. I introduce new foods only at lunch time, in case he gets gassy or has a reaction I want to be able to see it during the day.
12. I do not mix fruit with anything, but I also do not give him fruit for dinner. I like giving him cereal and vegetables at night as they are more wholesome, keep him full longer and I prefer to avoid sugar at night.
13. On days that I introduce new vegetables, he does not get any fruit. I will eventually give him both daily but after he has been introduced to a bigger variety of foods.
14. I stopped adding milk after 2-3 weeks, as he got used to the thicker texture.
Here are some takeaways from my experience:
1. Even the simplest seeming high chairs take time to assemble, so do it before hand. Our footrest is still wrong side up!
2. Make sure your table, bib, high chair and baby are all easily cleanable.
3. Do not make your child wear anything that you wanted to frame, or even use for another (future) child.
4. Bowls that have suction at the bottom are even more important than I could have imagined. Though the suction will not stop little fingers from ending up in the bowl (and then all over the place) anyway.
6. Mixing food with breast milk is a great idea, but the food will also be spat up like breast milk so keep your baby upright for a little bit after.
7. You can gradually change the consistency by reducing the amount of milk mixed in. I started with 2 ounces but that resulted in too much food for his tiny tummy so I had to quickly go down to one ounce. (I didn't mix milk in with fruits.)
8. Only start with one or two table spoons of food (you're the judge as you know how hungry your child is or how much they eat), their tummies are really small. You can increase it if you think your baby wants more.
9. Try different techniques to teach your baby how to eat - use your finger if the spoon is unfamiliar and not easily accepted, or leave the spoon in the baby's mouth for a few seconds after each bite (if they do accept it) so that they get accustomed to it and take the food off it (eventually).
10. Make sure you have your camera handy to capture that adorable food covered face!
11. The first feeding will take almost an hour from set up to clean up, it gets quicker after that.
12.Initially, more comes out than goes in (I kept scoping it up from his face and putting it back in his mouth). Feel free to keep a bib on your baby for an hour or so after you have fed him. You can switch from a wipe able bib to a softer one.
13. My son loved his food (and exhibited this love more on day 2 of sweet potato), even thumped on the table and opened his mouth as he waited for more bites. However, he spat a crazy amount of it out, through the day (spit up records were made) on the second day, so I mixed cereal (baby brown rice from Happy Baby) in with his sweet potato on day 3. That really helped!
14. The change in consistency to less watery and heavier helped keep the food down, and reduce any reflux he may have had.
15. Spend time trying to understand your baby's cues as they may not be what you expect. On day 4 (after starting carrot), he started crying while eating but kept his mouth open and wanted more. I kept going and gave him more as I thought he was frustrated with the speed of the food (since he is used to a constant flow). However, I tried cutting back on the quantity the next day (this was when I cut the milk added to half), and we have had no more crying at mealtime.
16. Some kids need you to talk them through their meal. Even though Riaan LOVES his food, he begins to day dream while I am feeding him and will open his mouth but forget to swallow. I have to talk to him (I recite his favorite books) or sing, and he stays focused and eats happily. He now eats more than he did before and whines if I stop talking to him or look away while feeding him.
17. Be prepared to change your routine based on what your child needs. I added two meals a day even though I was only planning to do one. It's double the work but he does seem fuller (the last feed of the day is shorter resulting in less spit up and quicker sleep).
18. Make sure you measure how much you are feeding (by tablespoons or ounces, whatever is easy for you) and keep track of it. It breaks my heart to throw milk (even when food is mixed in with it).
19. It is easy to make more than you intended to once you mix in milk, cereal and food.
20. Less milk added = less spit up after!
21. Keep track of what your baby likes and doesn't like, and his reactions. (In your phone or someplace easily accessible.)
22. Babies don't need hot food but if your food is homemade or refrigerated, do reheat to kill bacteria. Make sure you test the temperature (yourself and/or with a temperature testing baby spoon). I only serve room temperature food and not hot, as I wait for it to cool down after I place the packet in hot water.
23. Babies do not need water until they are 1 year old, at least breastfed babies (and all babies till 6 months). Water is usually introduced in limited quantities (with an MD's instruction) at 6 months. I chose to start Sippy cup training with solids and offer Riaan a cup of water (it only has one ounce in it and he maybe gets a couple drops at best) at mealtime. It will take a while for your baby to learn to use this so start early! You can offer milk (not cows, breast or formula only) instead of water if you prefer, but I personally don't want to waste my milk. Let your baby hold it, play with it and get used to the idea that there are other forms of liquid with different routes to drink them.
24. If you have a fur baby like I do, keep paper napkins or cleaning cloths handy to wipe up immediately, unless you don't mind your baby food being cleaned up for you.
25. When your baby starts to grab the spoon, give him his own. But ensure that it is not metal (yours shouldn't be either, as rubber is easier on the gums), and that your baby doesn't use it to accidentally scoop food out of his own mouth. (Or start a sword like spoon fight)
26. Beware of diaper rash (double up on the preventive vitamin A and D ointment I mentioned in my previous post), as new substances are introduced into the diaper that can irritate your baby's skin.
27. Your baby may fart a lot (I'm not kidding!) as their digestive system matures and they get used to food (I'm hoping that's really it and that this isn't just a male gene coming into play). I used to be able to tell when Riaan pooped from the sound but no longer can as it is gas more often than not.
28. Forget everything you knew about baby poop until you start solids. I don't think I knew anything until I had to clean carrot poop out of Riaan's hair (don't ask!)
Feel free to let me know if you have any questions and good luck with your baby food adventures!
Read on to know more about: 56 Must Knows For New Moms, Yet Another 50 Things That Every New Mom Should Know, 14 Things Every New Mom Should Know About Their New Self, 51 Things that Every New Mom Should Know!
All photographs in this article are original and contributed by author.