Everything You Need To Know About Baby’s First Foods
When my daughter was a few months old, the conversation of when to start giving her feeds inevitably came up, especially with all of my allergies and her severe eczema. Of course, I was the most educated between the two of us because of my job as a newborn photographer, and I had no idea of the complexity of giving baby solids for the first time! So I consulted with the experts in my network and I was absolutely pleased when a dietician friend of mine offered to write this blog post all about Baby’s First Foods. I leave the floor to Olivia. — Stephanie
Whether you are expecting or enjoying the early days of parent-hood, you might begin to think about your baby’s first foods.
Introducing your baby to the table can feel exciting, nerve-wracking, confusing, and joyful, all at once. Even as a Registered Dietitian, I felt all of these things when my baby started solids and I noticed that a lot of parents felt lost in a sea of misinformation, opinions and outdated advice.
I made it my mission to help clarify confusing guidelines and support families to feel confident with introducing first foods.
When to Start
This is probably the most controversial topic when discussing a baby’s first foods. Everyone and their grandma has an opinion on when babies should start eating. Most national health organizations, including Health Canada, recommend introducing solids around 6 months old1 when your baby is showing signs of readiness including:
- sitting upright
- bringing hands and toys to the mouth
- can hold food in their mouth without thrusting it out with their tongue
Some babies might be showing signs of readiness before 6 months old and for babies who are at a high risk of food allergies, it might be appropriate to introduce some common allergen foods sooner, but food should not be given before 4 months old2.
How to Start
Even if your baby isn’t quite ready to start eating, they can still join you at the table. This is a great time to start having regular sit-down meals as a family if you aren’t already, even if it is just you and baby. Sit your baby on your lap or pull up their highchair and give them some teethers to practice eating.
Once your baby is ready to start eating, try including them at mealtimes and offering foods when they are in a good mood. A tired or fussy baby won’t want to explore all of the tastes, textures, smells, and colours at the table.
In the early days of eating, one meal per day or several small offerings of food in a day is appropriate. Breastmilk/formula is still a baby’s main source of nutrition at this age and we don’t need to be too concerned about how much they are eating.
This is important to keep in mind, respecting a baby’s own hunger and fullness cues and desire to eat can help set the stage for their long-term healthy relationship with food and eating.
Best First Foods
For babies, under 9 months old, a wide variety of soft textures is usually appropriate. Minced, mashed, pureed, or long sticks of soft finger food are all options.
When babies are starting their first foods, there is one main nutrient that they need to get from food: iron. At around 6 months old, most babies have depleted their iron stores from birth and breastmilk and formula can’t quite meet their needs in this department3. So the best first foods for babies are iron-rich.
Animal foods have a special form of iron (“heme” iron) that is well absorbed, so things like tender cooked meat, meat purees, fish (cooked or low-sodium canned), make excellent first foods.
Plant-based iron (in foods like iron-fortified baby cereal, lentils, hemp hearts, beans) is not quite as well absorbed but if you add a vitamin C source like tomatoes, cooked bell peppers, ripe kiwi, ripe papaya, or cooked broccoli, the iron is better absorbed.
Some babies are at a higher risk of developing food allergies, especially those with severe eczema or a parent or sibling with a food allergy4. If your baby is in this club, check with your doctor about introducing allergies.
For babies are a lower risk of developing a food allergy, there is still some benefit in introducing common allergens early (around 6 months) and often. Common allergens include peanut, egg, tree nuts, dairy, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish (and sesame and mustard in Canada)5.
Try to include foods from this list when introducing complementary foods. It can be helpful to wait for 2-3 days between introducing a new food on this common allergens list, if your baby does have an allergic reaction, you will be able to identify the cause.
Talk to your health care provider first about introducing common allergens.
BLW vs. Spoon Feeding
If you are a parent in the 21st century, you may have heard of “Baby-led Weaning” (BLW) This is one of those controversial baby topics that get a lot of attention in parenting Facebook groups.
BLW essentially means including your baby at your meals, offering appropriate foods from the table and allowing your baby to self-feed rather than spoon-feeding them. Most babies are capable of some self-feeding around 6 months old and there is no harm in doing a combo of spoon-feeding and self-feeding. What we want to avoid is exclusively spoon-feeding a baby thin purees for longer than necessary when they are developmentally capable of self-feeding and need to explore a wider variety of textures.
If you are feeling confused about introducing first foods, nervous about letting your baby feed themself, or just looking for a fun supportive group to share baby feeding stories with, be sure to check out my Baby-led Weaning Confidence program – a thorough educational program on first foods and a monthly support group.
About The Author:
Olivia Farrow is a Registered Dietitian, mom of two little boys and owner of Nourished Nest Nutrition. She provides nutrition education to parents who want to nourish their babies and toddlers with love & confidence. She has an evidence-based, positive, and realistic approach to supporting families with her online programs on baby-led weaning and toddler feeding.