Starting solids is as exciting as it is stressful! Not only are there concerns about what foods to introduce, but there are always concerns about allergens and choking. While in the past many parents delayed solids until the age of one, the latest research shows that the sweet-spot is actually between four and six months, depending on the child (and parents!).
To ease the anxiety around starting solids, we spoke with Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP, a pediatrician and chief medical officer at SpoonfulONE, an allergen introduction company, to find out all the need-to-know facts to optimize the starting solids process.
Momtastic: When should parents begin starting solids? What are signs of a baby being ready?
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson: The new 2020-2025 USDA guidelines recommend that babies be introduced to solids and common allergens around 4-6 months of age. All babies are different, so they transition when both they are ready to start, and parents are, too. It’s important to understand the signs of readiness your baby shows to start solids. A few of the signs of readiness are:
- Shows eagerness to eat
- Follows foods with their eyes and shows interest
- Able to sit up without support
- Able to maintain great head control when sitting
- Loss of the tongue-thrust reflex so they don’t automatically push food out of their mouth when offered and taken
- Opens mouth wide when you offer food on a spoon
Momtastic: What are issues with starting too early or too late?
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson: Parents are always hesitant to start feeding a child in a new way, however getting going with solids can be a great joy for parents. Once you start serving solids to your infant, don’t go too slow in moving through different foods. We know that the longer a parent waits to introduce common allergens, the greater the risk for food allergy development. Recent research showed that food allergy experts DON’T want parents to go slow in introducing new foods to babies, nor do we recommend waiting days between new foods because food introduction will stretch out too long. Pediatricians all over the country want families to feel free to eat all different foods.
Momtastic: What are some strategies for introducing solids?
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson: If your baby is ready to try solids, a variety of foods, textures and tastes is necessary to help build excited, adventurous eaters and can even help prevent picky eaters. Just as you introduce fruits and vegetables, you should be introducing common allergens in a safe way – like shellfish, sesame, egg and milk.
Food should always be age-appropriate and the right consistency. When introducing first foods, here are some to avoid:
- Do not serve raw meats or eggs to your child. All meat and egg should be fully cooked.
- Avoid common choking hazards, like nuts, seeds, and other snack foods
- Do not add honey to your baby’s food, as it can lead to botulism
- Avoid adding excess salt or sugar to your baby’s food
- Milk and sugary juices should not be introduced until 12+ months
There are no rules on which food should come first or that magical first food. Thankfully, that decision is always up to you as there are many fun and nutritious recipes to try with your little ones! But it’s important to keep exposure to diverse foods as a routine and part of their everyday feedings.
Momtastic: What are the biggest mistakes you see parents make?
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson: Going too slow. Some parents want to introduce one food at a time, and that’s completely acceptable. However, they don’t need to wait weeks or even days into between each food. We want babies to get lots of diverse foods every single day. Also waiting too long. Many aren’t aware that guidelines have changed. Some are still waiting until baby reaches age 1, which we know greatly increases food allergy risk. I like the concept of trying 100 new foods in 100 days.
Momtastic: What are some examples of foods to start with?
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson: There are so many foods that can be great to start your baby on solids. In addition to considering your family’s food preferences here are a few first foods (in very, very small pieces or puree):
- – Avocados
- – Banana
- – Soft cooked, sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkin
- – Soft cooked apples
- – Soft cooked carrots, green beans, zucchini, and beets
- – Cereals that are thinned to a near-liquid consistency with expressed breast milk or formula
- – Very ripe peaches and pears
- – Peanut butter thinned with water and mixed into oatmeal
Momtastic: What are some nutritional things parents should keep in mind?
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson: Consistency is key. Intermittent or “one bite” exposure to foods may not be enough to protect babies. Like any great habit (think toothbrushing), research shows the immune system works best when it’s exposed to a wide variety of foods regularly throughout a child’s early years. Scientists, immunologists and pediatricians believe regular, consistent exposure to common allergens in the diet throughout early childhood is key to staying healthy.
Momtastic: How do allergens come into play when introducing solids?
Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson: Eating a diverse diet with multiple allergenic foods may reduce the likelihood of a food allergy by over 90%. Two landmark studies – LEAP and EAT – found that an infant’s risk of developing a food allergy dropped significantly when they were introduced to a potentially allergenic food early (as early as 4 months of age) and maintained inclusion of that food through early childhood.
- Further research found that introducing young infants to multiple allergens at once was safe. The EAT study showed that 98% of babies who were fed foods like peanuts, sesame, eggs, fish, and dairy by five months of age and who kept those foods in their diets regularly did not develop a food allergy.
- So make sure you’re offering your little one lots of different types of foods. Keep at it and enjoy sharing your love for food with your baby from the very first days of solid foods.