Starting Solids: When Can Babies Eat Table Food?
Babies can’t live off milk forever. Eventually they must join the rest of us in eating solid food. But how should it happen?
The baby food industry has everyone fooled. You don’t need them. There’s actually more research that goes into commercial pet food than commercial baby food. For all its faults, dog and cat kibble at least has to adhere to certain nutrient standards. Commercial baby food is just random stuff blended up with enough pear or banana to taste sweet. And I’m not saying there’s something wrong with pears or bananas or green beans or whatever else they blend up and throw in those pouches. I’m just saying it’s not enough. You can do so much better with a little thought and innovation.
It’s not as hard as people think. I mean, these are people we’re feeding. Small people, but people. If you can feed yourself, you can feed a kid. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably feeding yourself nutrient-dense whole foods. Well, do the same thing for your baby only in smaller portions and using different textures. Because there are limitations:
Babies starting solids generally don’t have teeth.
Babies starting solids are only used to drinking fluids. They have to get used to an entirely different state of matter.
Babies starting solids have yet to fulfill their genetic intelligence potential. In other words, they are completely useless.
So you can’t just throw a steak down in front of your seven month old and be done with it. You need a little more care. Here’s when and how to do it:
When to Start Solids
A good rule of thumb is to start a baby on solids when he or she begins showing interest in solid food. Don’t force it on them. Let it develop organically. However, don’t offer any solids before six months regardless of interest. Exclusive breast milk (or formula, if that’s what you’re doing) is that vital.
Some people will recommend that you supplement a “slow-growing” breastfed infant with solid food at four months or so, but I think that’s a mistake. According to the WHO’s birth charts, breastfed babies grow more “slowly” but this is normal. They grow as they’re supposed to grow, not as the solid foods are dictating. In its own FAQ, the CDC recommends against using the CDC growth chart for breastfed babies and admits that the WHO chart shows how “infants should grow rather than simply do grow.”
6 Developmental Signs of Readiness for Solids
Your baby may be ready for solids if she:
- Is at least six months of age
- Can sit up in a high chair unassisted
- Has doubled her birth weight
- Has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (if she doesn’t automatically spit out food placed on her tongue)
- Shows interest in what you’re eating
- Opens her mouth when food comes near her face
Tip: don’t start solids if your baby has a cold. Stuffy noses can make it hard to coordinate breathing and moving food around the mouth, and it may alter the taste of foods, turning your baby off to something she might otherwise like.
She’ll Have What You’re Having
You can drop a few hundred bucks on the infant food machine and refillable pouches and spend hours each week manufacturing your own goops and purees, or you could let your kid nibble on what you’re having for dinner. After all, you’re eating good, nutrient-dense food yourself, right? It’s probably perfect for your baby.
Don’t let me dissuade you from making your own goop. That works for many parents and it’s a great way to fine-tune exactly what your baby is getting. But it’s not the only way.
Early solids are complementary, they cannot replace breast milk. Always nurse or feed milk before offering solids; that way your baby doesn’t fill up on food and reject the milk he needs. This also auto-regulates how much food the baby will eat.
Breastmilk isn’t just food. It’s also rich in immunoregulatory components that shape and guide the infant’s immune system. Feeding breastmilk as you introduce solid foods (in the same meal) will help your baby learn to tolerate the foods and reduce the risk of allergies.
The Perfect First Food
Here’s the official line:
Give rice cereal as the first complementary food. Make sure it’s fortified with iron, because iron-fortified rice cereal is the only way for an infant human to obtain the iron he desperately needs to grow and thrive.
Does that sound ridiculous to anyone else?
You know what else has iron? Meat. Sardines. Egg yolks. Liver. There are hundreds of foods with more and better iron than rice cereal. If a food has to be fortified with certain nutrients to become suitable in an infant’s early complementary diet, it’s not the perfect first food. Turns out that if you had to choose just one, meat is probably the most important early complementary food in an infant’s diet. In one landmark study, meat-eating breastfed infants had larger heads, better zinc statuses, and better behavior at 12 months than cereal-eating breastfed infants.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22624294/‘>2