We’ve already established that long before getting to the high chair, babies benefit from experience with:
- handling and mouthing a variety of objects that difer in shape, texture, material and even temperature
- different sights, smells and potential licks of your food (given that it is safe to do so!)
- many kisses from loved ones! What better positive way to provide safe sensory input to little cheeks and mouths!
We’ve talked about readiness signs and the reasoning behind starting to offer calories from “food” at approximately 6 months of age/development.
What to start with:
North American parents have traditionally introduced rice cereal as a first food. There seems to be a movement away from this practice in the general mama community, especially white rice cereal. It is a prominent belief for followers of the baby-led weaning method. Baby-led weaning is a method of foods introduction wherein the baby is offered whole foods. The baby has complete control with this method. For example, you steaming a whole artichoke, place it on the baby’s tray and allow him to decide what to do with it. Purees and spoon-feeding is discouraged. I will elaborate on the benefits and definite risks of this approach in another post. US Pediatrician, Dr. Green has also spearheaded a “Whiteout” campaign.
Infant cereal, pureed meats and fish are recommended as first foods by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), Dieticians of Canada, Breastfeeding Commitee for Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, and Health Canada. CPS also identifies poultry, cooked egg yolk and well-cooked legumes (beans, lentils, chick peas) to be good sources of iron and suitable for first foods.
Choice of first food is influenced by a host of factors, including tradition and culture. Regardless of the actual food choice, it is critically important that it is iron rich. Iron stores are low in exclusively breast fed babies by 6 months, thus introduction of iron-rich foods is critical to prevent iron deficiency.
You will make small incremental changes from familiar to unfamiliar, until you get to know your baby’s preferences. Some babies have an early love for eating and enjoy bigger changes. Other baby’s are skeptical and learly of food and you will be more successful with gradual changes. The first time you offer a new food, you may mix a small amount of the new flavor in a larger amount of breast milk. Additionally, recommendations for a slow food introduction (one food at a time, waiting 2 – 3 days between new foods) are to ensure identification of allergies and reactions. As a result, it could take weeks to get a few foods on board.
So… bottom line. You don’t need to start with rice cereal if you feel strongly against it. Options include: rice cereal (white, whole grain), or meats/alternatives (eg. lentils, red kidney beans, cooked egg yolk). Meats are tricky to puree to a runny, smooth state and are easily grainy, not great for a first experience. Cooked egg yolk pureed with breast milk/formula is a great way to achieve a smooth consistency.
Big picture: Once first foods have been accepted, introduce other pureed fruits and vegetables. Aim for something high in Vitamin C once a day to ehance iron absorption (eg. kiwi, orange, broccoli, strawberries). Of note, delaying wheat cereal introduction until after 6 months has not been shown (to date) to protect against the development of a wheat allergy.
The nitty gritty:
*When starting out, you want to offer solids after a breast feed/bottle. This is still the primary source of energy when you are starting out.
1. Set the scene: Prepare food and equipment before you put baby in the high chair. Make sure your baby fits in his high chair. Some high chairs are huge! Your baby may need some help feeling snug and secure. If he isn’t quite sitting independently, provide support by rolling up tea towels and placing them beside his trunk and/or legs. The new experience will be challenging enough. Your baby doesn’t need to waste additional energy trying to keep himself from toppling over. Add the tray and place a spoon or other implement (even a teething toy) for him to bang around.
You can just see a rolled up tea towel peeking out at her side.
2. Mix your first food of choice with breast milk or formula. Use the familiar taste to bridge the change. The consistency should be very runny and a just noticeable difference from breast milk (think running off a tipped spoon). Start by putting some of the mixture on baby’s hands and tray before offering the spoon to his mouth. Let him feel it and smell it before it gets to his mouth. Don’t worry about volume. These are first experiences… it’s even a success if he looks at the food!
I KNOW it’s messy to put food right on the tray and let your baby muck about. It is a small price to pay to build a solid, trusting foundation for food interaction. Remember what it felt like to have your feeder place an unknown food in your mouth?
Now comes the mealtime dance. You and your baby are constantly communicating during this experience and he needs to learn that you will listen and respect what he is saying. Don’t push a spoon into a closed mouth. Allow him time to explore with his hands, he will likely lick the new food off of his hand. Dip your finger in the new food and touch it to his lips. With the next dip, offer it to his lips and maybe he will open his mouth. Take this as your cue to place your finger in his mouth! Your job is to follow his lead.
Signs of Yes, I like this, give me more
Signs of No, this is not fun, give me a break, stop
|Makes happy sounds
|Leans toward spoon or your hand
|Looks at food and smiles
||Turns head away
|Reaches for spoon or your hand
||Looks away from food
If you chose to introduce cereal first, breast milk will break it down. The consistency will become runnier the longer it sits in the bowl. This change can be reassuring for baby as it slowly changes to a consistency he is familiar with.
The next day, offer the same thing with a slight change. Add a little less breastmilk so that it is just a tiny bit thicker (i.e. doesn’t pour off the spoon like a thin liquid but has a few drops to it). Again, do not worry about the volume your baby actually takes in, these first experiences are about learning. Some babies prefer slightly thicker consistencies while others prefer thinner consistencies. Your job is to tweak things and really discover what your baby loves.
You do not get a “bigger bang for your buck” if you load the spoon full of a new food. Start with a small amount on the spoon while your baby learns how to use his lips, jaw, tongue and cheeks. He now needs to transfer the food from the front to the back of his mouth. Heck, I’d be more likely to turn my head in protest to an approaching mountain of food too!
3. When you and baby are ready, move onto your next food!
Calgary area community resources related to first foods:
Free Class Alberta Health Services Childbirth and Parenting Education. Feeding your baby (up to 12 months).
As of Fall 2013, I will be offering feeding therapy services for Calgary and its surrounding area. New this year are in-home consultations to help set you up for success on the journey to table foods. Details to follow.
* References for information above available on request*