Starting Solids? 5 Things You Should Know about Your Baby’s Nutrition
When my four children were babies, I followed the guidelines for starting solids by the book: iron-fortified cereal at four to six months; lumpier purees at six to eight months; chopped food at eight to ten months; and finger and chopped foods at ten to twelve months. We advanced along the changing textures and flavors without a hitch and by a year, my kids were joining us at the table and eating what my husband and I were eating.
For me, moving from pureed food to table foods was straightforward and relatively quick.
But, that easy, systematic approach has become much more complicated. Today, parents have questions and hear conflicting advice about what to feed and how to do it. One thing stands out: many parents want to start their baby on the healthiest path possible.
Undoubtedly, figuring out which foods to use and how to get started is exciting, and also nerve-wracking.
Should my baby start with pureed food and a spoon, self-feed with whole foods, or use a combination of both?
Should my baby eat bland flavors and build up to more variety, or should he be adventurous with flavors from the get-go?
And, how closely should I be paying attention to nutrition?
Of course, having some knowledge behind what your baby needs during the second six months of life will help you decide what route you should take and what is best for your baby.
There are a few things you should know before embarking on starting solids:
Your Baby is Growing, Fast
Baby’s growth takes center-stage during the first year, making calories and nutrients important considerations as you begin your feeding journey. If your baby is nursing, he will continue to get many of his calories from breast milk. Formula-fed babies will also get the lion share of nutrition from this source. Your baby’s nutrient needs, however, climb to a higher level beginning at 6 months, which is why “complementary” foods, or solid foods, are introduced to provide the additional nutrients he needs. As your baby eats more solid foods, his liquid nutrition will decrease.
Your Baby has Higher Nutrient Needs
As mentioned, nutritional needs increase considerably, as baby’s growth accelerates, especially for nutrients like iron, zinc, DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid), and vitamin D. Because of this, it is very important to pay attention to the foods you choose to feed your baby early on so that you meet his increased nutrient demands for normal growth and development.
Food Helps Your Baby Learn to Chew and Talk
In the first 6 months of life, your baby’s mouth muscles have mastered sucking. But, in order to learn how to chew and talk, those muscles must be challenged. Moving from pureed food to whole, chopped food teaches your baby how to chew, swallow, and readies the mouth muscles for talking.
Different Flavors Set the Stage for Food Intake Later On
In the first six months of life, if your baby is breast fed, he will experience the flavors of your diet, and this may transition to greater food acceptance when he starts to eat real food. If he is formula-fed, his exposure to different flavors is limited (formula flavor doesn’t change). Research shows that exposure to a variety of different flavors helps lay the foundation for what your baby will be willing to eat later on. In other words, when your baby starts to eat solids, introducing a variety of different flavors through feeding in the first year is the name of the game.
Your Baby Knows When to Eat and How Much
Babies are born with an internal appetite regulator—in other words, they know when to eat, how much to eat, and when to stop eating. Researchers call this self-regulation. It’s important to preserve this sense of appetite because it translates to the eating habits of your child when he is older. Feeding your baby, whether by spoon or with self-feeding approaches may change your baby’s appetite regulation, especially if you are keen on getting your baby to finish his bottle or eat all of his food. Be sure to pay attention to your baby’s signs of hunger and fullness, and respond to them appropriately.
While there are many things to consider when beginning your baby on solid food, especially when it comes to his growth, development and overall health, navigating this stage is easier when you keep these nutrition considerations in mind.
Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Jill Castle Nutrition LLC <www.jillcastle.com>
Registered Dietitian, Childhood Nutrition & Feeding Expert
Author, Speaker, Consultant
Jill Castle is a registered dietitian and childhood nutrition expert who helps families navigate the ins and outs of feeding children from high chair to high school. She is the author of The Smart Mom’s Guide to Starting Solids, and the co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School as well as many other resources for parents, including online trainings. You can find Jill’s blog, podcast and other resources on her website, http://www.jillcastle.com/.