Introducing solid foods is an exciting milestone for your little one! There are several methodologies of introducing solids, including which foods to start with, when to begin, how to serve the food, etc. The goal of this article is to share and summarize some evidence, and what worked well for our daughter, Maeve.
When to Introduce Solids
The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to exclusively breastfeed or give infant formula for six months, then introduce solids as complementary foods around that time. The exact age of introducing solids isn’t as significant as baby showing developmental signs of food readiness (sitting up on their own, showing interest in food, opening their mouth when food is nearby, starting to use a pincer grasp, etc.); however, I tend to think that closer to six months of age is optimal. Your baby will give you cues that they’re ready for solids! I see that many parents are instructed to (and eager to) introduce foods like oatmeal and rice cereal closer to four months of age. I’d generally not recommend this, since babies’ digestive systems at that age are still maturing and may not be ready for digesting grains. Babies should continue to be breastfed (or consume formula) while introducing solids. From six to twelve months, and sometimes beyond that, most of a baby’s nutrition is provided from breast milk or formula.
My daughter Maeve was showing signs of food readiness when she was six months old, and we introduced solids at that point.
Which Foods to Start With
The conventionally recommended first food is rice cereal. The rationale is that it’s an unlikely allergen, and it’s fortified with iron. I chose to start Maeve with other foods that are naturally iron-rich, unlikely allergens, more nutrient-dense, and more beneficial to her digestive system.
Since a baby’s iron stores can start to decrease after six months of age (tip: delayed umbilical cord clamping at birth can prevent low iron1), I made it a priority to continue breastfeeding, and to offer foods that are naturally rich in iron, and generally nutrient dense. Here are some of the foods we started with:
– Pastured egg yolks
– Wild-caught salmon
– Organic spinach
– Organic, grass-fed beef
– Organic broccoli
– Wild-caught sardines
– Organic avocado (not iron-rich)
– Organic cauliflower (not iron-rich)
– Organic shiitake mushrooms (not iron-rich)
Consideration of Potential Allergens
Evidence and recommendations on food allergen introduction for babies has completely changed over the last decade. The most common food allergens include cow’s milk, egg, soy, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. Earlier evidence suggested that delayed introduction of these foods (after one to three years of age) was protective against pediatric food allergy. More recent research suggests that there is no benefit to delaying introduction of potentially allergenic foods, and that early introduction (between four and six months of age) of potential allergens is protective against development of food allergy, for infants who are at a higher risk.2
We started out by giving a single food for three to four days in a row before switching to a different food, or combining a new food with something she’s already tried. We paid close attention to her digestion, elimination, and any allergy symptoms. Now at eleven months old, we only follow that routine when introducing a new food that is a potential (common) allergen.
My thought about potential allergens is to introduce them between six and twelve months, preferably after a month or so of starting solids. They should be introduced one at a time (waiting three to four days before introducing another) so that if your baby has any reaction, the culprit can be identified.
Here are the foods we used to introduce potential allergens:
- Fish – wild salmon, wild sardines
- Shellfish – oysters
- Nuts – walnut butter, cashew butter, almond butter, peanut butter (natural, organic varieties)
- Eggs – pastured scrambled eggs
- *Dairy – pastured butter & ghee
- When Maeve is twelve months or older, I may offer organic, grass-fed kefir or yogurt. I am intentionally holding off on cow’s milk products until then. Dairy-derived fats (like butter and ghee) contain virtually no milk proteins (casein and whey), so they’re unlikely to be problematic in infants. Additionally, pastured butter and ghee contain important brain-building healthy fats!
- *Wheat – have not introduced, yet
- I’m waiting until twelve months of age to introduce grains (even gluten-free grains like brown rice and quinoa). Gluten is so destructive to gut health, and therefore it won’t be a regular part of her diet throughout childhood.
At the time of writing this, Maeve is eleven months old, and we are still going strong with breastfeeding, which provides immunological components that protect against atopic conditions.3
We started with pureed foods at six months, and practiced a combination of spoon-feeding and baby-led weaning at seven months old. We wanted Maeve to practice her motor skills of bringing food to her mouth, and also let her instinctually control her own food intake. We’ve been consistent with using the sign for “more” before we give her another bite from a spoon, and also watching closely for signs of disinterest, signaling that she’s no longer hungry (responsive feeding). We chose not to do strict baby-led weaning with Maeve, because we found that we could offer a larger variety of nutrient-dense foods, with different flavors and textures, in puree form. This is also beneficial in expanding your baby’s palate. Choking was also a concern, and we only felt comfortable letting Maeve feed herself pieces of food when she had a better pincer grasp. In other words, we followed her lead! Baby-led weaning with avocado spears, scrambled eggs, ground meat, flaked salmon, and soft, steamed vegetables requires close monitoring and assessment. Over time, we gradually increased the consistency and thickness of purees, as a transition to more finger foods. By ten months old, Maeve’s diet consisted of mostly finger foods.
Preparation of Food
I cooked Maeve’s food with organic seasonings (cinnamon, garlic, ginger, thyme, etc.), fresh organic herbs (cilantro, basil, oregano, etc.), and aimed to offer foods with a wide variety of textures and colors. I avoided sweet-tasting foods (fruits) at the beginning, since I figured affinity for this taste would come easily in the future.
I steamed most of Maeve’s food, as steaming foods preserves more of the nutrient levels than other cooking methods. I also cooked some foods in a cast iron skillet, with pastured butter, organic olive, avocado, or coconut oil.
As a side note – we offered small amounts of filtered water from an open cup (instead of a sippy cup) at the end of each meal, starting around nine months.
There’s no best universal method of introducing solids to babies, but it’s important to be aware of the important principles. Feeding Maeve has been a great bonding experience, and we’ve included her in our family meals as much as possible, so we can all eat together. She loves to watch us eat and inspect what we’re eating!
If you have any questions about feeding your little one, reach out to me here!
- McAdams, R.M. Time to implement delayed cord clamping. Obstetrics and Gynecology. (2014);123(3):549-552.
- Greer, F.R., Sicherer, S.H., and Burks, A.W. The effects of early nutritional interventions on the development of atopic disease in infants and children: the role of maternal dietary restriction, breastfeeding, hydrolyzed formulas, and timing of introduction of allergenic complementary foods. Pediatrics. (2019);143(4).
- Lodge, C.J., Tan, D.J., Lau, M.X.Z., et al. Breastfeeding and asthma and allergies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatrica. (2015);104:38-53.