Baby's First Foods: Starting Solids and Baby-Led Weaning
This blog is reader supported, so when you purchase a product from a link on this site, I earn a small commission.
I remember with my first baby being both excited and nervous about starting solids with her. We finally reached this huge milestone and at the same time there were so many options on how to do it.
I’ll confess that as a new mom, I definitely didn’t know how to do it (and learned along the way). My pediatrician at the time was pretty traditional had given the go and suggested rice cereal, and so that’s what I did.
Little did that I know that there were developmental signs I needed to watch for to know that she’s ready. And I certainly didn’t realize that rice cereal should not in a baby’s diet.
Eventually I accumulated a long list of certifications, owned a green baby store and worked with thousands of mothers to provide education and support. (This includes huge milestones like baby solids.)
In this blog post I will be covering everything from when to start baby's first foods to baby-led weaning (also known as baby-led feeding).
Starting baby on solids
It’s surprising (and sad to me) that there are still pediatricians recommending parents to start their babies on solids at four months. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastmilk or formula as the sole source of nutrition for babies for the first six months.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about six months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with a continuation of breastfeeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.
There are many reasons to wait on solids until at least six months – and this includes both breastfed, and formula-fed babies.
One of them is the increased risk of obesity for babies that start solids before six months. And another reason being the increased risk of allergies, constipation, colic, and stomach irritations since a baby’s gut is not complete until sometime between 4-6 months.
Even at six months of age, a baby may or may not be ready for solids. Instead of going by the age of your child, consider instead looking for signs that your baby is ready for solids.
RELATED ARTICLE: New Mom and Baby Checklist: Product Recommendations
What are the signs that baby is ready for solids?
Your baby will show you when they are ready for solid foods. I recommend that you follow your baby's readiness cues and begin at that point. Some babies are ready earlier than others.
- Excellent head control
- Able to sit up
- Interest in the foods you are eating (this is more than just watching you eat, but includes reaching for your food and not easily distracted from what you are eating)
- Has pincher grip
Does introducing baby solids help a baby sleep through the night?
There’s a misconception that you can get a baby to sleep through the night by introducing solids. The research says this is a myth.
I know that when having sleep issues, you're wanting to try allll the things. But, introducing solids before six months increases your baby’s chance of obesity and gut irritation. And it doesn't actually help a baby sleep through the night.
I encourage you to wait until baby is developmentally ready for solids. And for sleep challenges, I'm happy to work with you through Parent Coaching.
RELATED ARTICLE: Why Is My Baby Fighting Naps??
Do I Start with Rice Cereal?
To this, I would answer — why? Yes, I did with my first, but I'll tell you why this isn't a good idea.
Rice cereal is a highly processed food that has such a bland taste, can make babies constipated, and in itself has little nutrients (that’s why store-bought baby rice cereal is processed to include added nutrients).
Rice is also a grain, and grains are the hardest for a baby’s body to digest until about one year of age.
If you’ve been nursing, your baby is used to delicious flavors from the foods that you eat. It's best to keep your baby’s gourmet palate diverse by starting solids using the same kinds of foods you currently eat.
Shop My List of Baby Food Recipes Books
Here's a list of first foods to introduce to baby.
The reality is that your baby can eat any healthy food option. The American Academy of Pediatrics at one point had a schedule of which foods to introduce and when. But, a few years ago the guidelines changed to introducing any food at any age.
To get you started, here is a list of food to introduce to baby.
- Sweet Potato
- Green beans.
- Butternut squash
All of these should be prepared appropriately for your baby (continue reading for tips on how to make baby food).
To give you an idea of how much baby may eat, a baby starting first foods eats needs only 1-2 tablespoons of each food. This gradually increases to about 3-4 tablespoons as baby gets older.
You should be aware of common food allergens, these include:
- Tree nuts
Some parents believe that waiting on these foods prevents allergies but there isn’t sufficient research to prove that waiting on high allergen foods prevents allergies. But, you'll want to be mindful that these are high allergen foods.
RELATED ARTICLE: Natural Remedies for Eczema
How Do I Prepare Baby's First Foods?
If you’re starting solids (vs baby-led feeding), you can steam the foods that need to be cooked and then mash or puree to a texture that your baby likes. For meats, I like to pull the meat into thin strips.
For foods that do not need to be cooked, you can simply mash them to a desired consistency.
Here are some resources for recipes for feeding your baby:
- NurtureBaby Homemade Baby Solids Recipes
- Wholesome Baby First Foods Recipes
- Parents Magazine – Making Fruit Purees
- Mothering Magazine – Baby Food Recipes
Starting Baby Solids Tips
When starting solids, keep in mind these tips:
- Your baby should experience various textures with food. This helps your baby to expand their sensory skills.
- Raise a child that loves a wide variety of food by keeping a wide variety of food on your repertoire.
- Starting solids is messy! Accept the fact that your baby will experience the food in all ways (ie eating, spiting, smashing, smearing).
- It can take 10-15 times for your baby to accept a food. Don’t assume that baby doesn’t like it because you tried it a few times.
Shop My List of Non-Toxic Baby Plates and Cups
The 4 Day Rule
Most pediatricians and experts in baby feeding recommend waiting four days between new foods when beginning baby on solids. The four day rule gives you the chance to monitor how your baby is responding ot the new food.In this way, you can learn if your baby has an allergy or intolerance to a food.
If you're concerned about food allergies, there's the option of Food Sensitivity Test Kits at EverlyWell.com, which I've personally used.
Finally, before beginning solids it’s recommend you take a Infant CPR/First Aid class (like the one I offer virtually) so you can be prepared for any emergency.
RELATED ARTICLE: 8 Self Care Ideas to Increase Mindfulness
Starting Baby Solids through Baby-led Weaning
My story with baby-led weaning began when my daughter was two years old, at a friend's house having lunch. There I was feeding my 26 month old (I also had a brand new baby boy at the time). I was partly feeding her and she partly feeding herself. And there was my friend’s 9 months old son feeding himself.
Hmmm…ok. Her 9 month old was her 4th child (and she was pregnant with her 5th at the time) and so my curiosity got the better of me. How is he able to feed himself?
And she went on to tell me that she practiced what’s called “baby-led weaning” in which the child starts solids when they have an interest in foods and are able to feed themselves.
I decided to try baby-led weaning with my second baby and found it easier.
Well, I liked that! It made total sense to me. It made perfect sense to me that a child should be able to feed themselves, but selfishness I'll admit that the idea of not spoon feeding/helping feed a toddler was very appealing.
It seemed so much easier, less worrisome and I liked that it gave the control over feeding to the child instead of me deciding/worrying about how much my child should eat.
In baby-led weaning (here in the States it’s more commonly known as “baby-led feeding”) the parent offers the food and the child chooses to eat it.
I learned (and it's been further stressed by dietitians and nutritionists) that a child will not starve herself. Your job as a parent is to provide a variety of healthy foods to your child. The job of your child is to eat what she wants and how much she wants, without bribery, coercion or "one more biteeee".
Allowing a baby to determine how much they eat is also a way to prevent food disorders later in life. In my experience, baby-led makes following healthy guidance much easier.
And so I decided that with my new baby I would try baby-led weaning. I asked her as many questions I could think of and she gladly helped me.
When it came time for my son to start solids (which ended up being closer to nine months old instead of the usual 4-6 months old), I offered healthy options in small sizes and he was able to feed himself. I also started giving him a small cup to practice with.
My baby-led fed son was able to feed himself and drink from a cup independently before he was one years old.
Comparing my first experience of feeding my daughter with my experience with baby-led weaning with my second (and then later with my third), I can tell you that baby-led is so much easier as a mother!
Meal times are easier, my child enjoyed solids so much more in a totally different way than if I was to have fed him myself, and he was able to decide for himself when he was done and when he wanted more without me trying to figure that out while feeding him.
When doing baby-led weaning, the signs of readiness are slightly different.
Here are some signs that baby may be ready for baby-led weaning.
(1) Reaching for food
On it's own this is not a sign of readiness. Babies reach for everything! Is he reaching for your food to eat it or because it would make a great toy?
Here’s how you can know – when your baby reaches for your food, offer him his favorite toy or your spoon. If he is happy with either than it was not your food he wanted, but entertainment. If he throws the toy down, the spoon gets dropped and he goes back to reaching for your food – bingo!
(2) Baby can sit up unassisted
You’re allowing your baby to eat solids (not pureed foods) so for developmental reasons as well as safety reasons you want your child to able to fully sit up.
(3) Baby has “pincher grip”
This is when baby can grab small objects with his fingers. This is a must since you’ll be allowing baby to feed himself so he needs to be able to pick up the foods.
(4) Baby has a strong interest in eating food
Let’s say that baby seems to be grabbing for your food (not interested in a toy or the spoon but your food), can sit up, can pick up foods, but you give him foods and she has no interest at all. Well, baby is not ready.
It’s baby-led weaning meaning that baby leads the way. Try again in a few days and see if there’s interest and if not, then it’s best to listen to baby and wait until she’s interested in solids.
Food Ideas for Baby-led Weaning
With baby-led weaning there’s no pureeing, mashing, liquifying, mesh bags, etc. Baby eats foods just like you would eat.
You can start with pieces of foods from your own dinner plate. Or you can make foods like steamed vegetables, cut up fruits, small pieces of meat, pasta.
I personally found the Do’s and Don’ts from Gill Rapley very helpful.
- DO start by offering foods that are baby-fist-sized, preferably chip-shaped (i.e., with a ‘handle’). As far as possible, and provided they are suitable, offer him the same foods that you are eating, so that he feels part of what is going on.
- DO offer a variety of foods. There is no need to limit your baby’s experience with food any more than you do with toys.
- DON’T hurry your baby. Allow him to direct the pace of what he is doing. In particular, don’t be tempted to ‘help’ him by putting things in his mouth for him.
- DON’T expect your baby to eat any food on the first few occasions. Once he has discovered that these new toys taste nice, he will begin to chew and, later, to swallow.
- DON’T expect a young baby to eat all of each piece of food at first – remember that he won’t yet have developed the ability to get at food which is inside his fist.
- DO try rejected foods again later – babies often change their minds and later accept foods they originally turned down.
- DON’T leave your baby on his own with food.
- DON’T offer foods which present an obvious danger, such as peanuts.
- DON’T offer ‘fast’ foods, ready meals or foods that have added salt or sugar.
- DO offer water from a cup but don’t worry if your baby shows no interest in it. A breastfed baby, in particular, is likely to continue for some time to get all the drinks he needs from the breast.
- DO be prepared for the mess! A clean plastic sheet on the floor under the high chair will protect your carpet and make clearing up easier. It will also enable you to give back foods that have been dropped, so that less is wasted. (You will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your baby learns to eat with very little mess!)
- DO continue to allow your baby to breastfeed whenever he wants, for as long as he wants. Expect his breastfeeding pattern to change as he starts to eat more solid foods.
- If you have a family history of food intolerance, allergy or digestive problems, DO discuss this method of weaning with your health advisers before embarking on it.
Finally, DO enjoy watching your baby learn about food – and develop his skills with his hands and mouth in the process!
RELATED ARTICLE: Children and Juice Are Not a Good Mix
Follow the 4 day rule when practicing baby-led weaning.
In baby-led weaning, I also recommend following the four day rule to assure that your baby is adjusting well to the new foods.
Should I start with traditional or baby-led feeding?
Honestly, it’s up to you. There is no right or wrong way in that decision. The most important things to remember, in any way you begin, is to begin when baby shows signs of readiness and to diversity baby’s food options.
I know you’ll make the best decision for your baby when it comes to traditional vs baby-led weaning.
Want more for more mindful, holistic wellness and positive parenting resources? Check out Loom Mothers Circle!
Originally written in 2013 and updated in Sept 2020