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A guide to starting solids for your baby

A guide to starting solids for your babyI spent so much time researching baby food when I started solids for Little Dude that I thought should write down all that information just sitting in my head! I started solids at six months. Some people start at around the four month mark, but I waited because I wanted to be certain that he was ready. This is also the recommendation from the World Health Organisation (WHO), but there's no harm in starting early if you've based your decision on your child's readiness and health. For me, the readiness factors were that he was hungry more often and displayed an interest in food.

Here are some general guidelines for starting solids or weaning your baby. I've categorized them by type of food. I am also sharing my mistakes so you don't end up doing the same! Also, if baby-led weaning (BLW) is what you've decided to do, then I'm no expert on that. These tips are for those who want to feed their baby themselves, at least in the beginning.

Start with purees

Mashed ripe banana was the first food Little Dude tasted. I followed his lead by bringing my finger close to his mouth and then he would put it in his mouth! I started with my finger because babies that age are more comfortable with something they are familiar with, instead of the spoon. I gradually started using a soft spoon. After mashed banana, I gave him cooked and strained peas and he loved it! Eventually, I started pureeing more types of food such as beans, carrots, sweet potato, cauliflower and pumpkin. Broccoli was something that didn't make a great puree and I decided to hold off on it until he could swallow it easily. To summarize, here are the vegetables and fruits you can puree as first foods:
  • Peas
  • Carrots (use in moderation)
  • Sweet potato
  • Pumpkin (all types are good, but the large orange ones are best)
  • Cauliflower (in moderation because it's gassy)
  • Apricots and pear (slightly steamed first)
  • Green beans
  • Bananas and avocados (mashed well)
Try to include one orange vegetable a day because Vitamin A is very essential for your baby in the first year. Fruits such as apricots, pears, nectarine and peaches should also be given daily or at least on alternate days because they prevent constipation. Ripe bananas and avocados are nutrient-dense foods. Apples don't make good purees but you can give applesauce. Keep off sour fruits such as pineapples and oranges.

I don't recommend starting solids with rice or oats baby cereal. They are highly processed (even if organic) and they cannot give the same nutrition as fresh food.

Two meals are a good start - veggies in the morning and fruits in the afternoon.

Remember, when you try a new food, give it for three days straight before you introduce another one to identify any allergies.

Storage:
I used to make a batch of purees every week and freeze them in ice cube trays. I started by giving him one cube and then increased the number.


Grains

Ideally, don't start grains until you've started solids for at least two weeks. One mistake I made was giving my baby rolled oats cooked in water (because he wasn't having formula milk). It made him very constipated and me very unhappy! That's when I bought baby oats cereal (still, avoid the the rice cereal - it doesn't have many benefits!), and at this point I started giving three meals a day. You can also give brown rice cooked in milk or water, but in moderation. Babies cannot handle too much wholegrain. Ensure that the cereal you buy doesn't have any sugar, which is why I stayed off Cerelac-type cereals.

Lentils and legumes can be given gradually, especially if you are vegetarian. Legumes are harder to digest, and should be given only at a later stage. Red and yellow lentils are good to start with.

Water

Once you start giving grains, you must increase the intake of water. Our doctor told us that Little Dude's cause of on-off constipation was not enough water. Now, I was under the impression that breastfed babies didn't need much extra water but I was wrong. They do, and formula-fed babies need it even more. Once I started giving him more water and fibre-rich fruit, his digestive system was much better.

Dealing with early constipation:
Don't panic! When you start solids, it is but natural that some types of food will not go down well. The important thing is to keep your baby well hydrated, and as mentioned above, feed the following fruits on a regular basis:
  • Peaches/Pears/Apricots/Nectarines (remember to steam them unless really ripe)
  • White grapes (peeled, de-seeded and quartered) or grape juice
  • Prune juice 

Chicken and other meat

The commonly held school of thought is that meat is not a good first food. There's no reason to believe that, and WHO supports this. Proteins and iron are very important for a growing child. I gave my baby chicken puree almost every day until his first birthday, when he started having a variety of protein. I stuck with white meat in the beginning because it's easier to digest. Red meat does not make great puree but can be introduced later when the child is ready for finger food.

Fish can be started at about 9-10 months, around the time you start egg yolks.

Mashed food

Sometime around his 9 month mark, I started offering Little Dude mashed food. At first, I mashed it really well, but over time, I gave him bigger pieces - always ensuring that the food was soft. You can give the same types of veggies as the pureed ones but some like beans, carrots and peas can be hard to eat mashed until they are cooked really well. Pea shells, especially, can be difficult to swallow.

At this stage, sweet potato and pumpkin was a favourite! Around this time, I had introduced some new food (from nine to twelve months), such as:
  • Betroot
  • Mango
  • Cabbage
  • Courgette/Zucchini
  • Capsicum/Pepper (de-seeded, yellow and red before green)
  • Brinjal/Eggplant
  • White potato
  • Ripe papaya
  • Mandarin
  • Egg yolk (egg whites should be given after 12 months)


Dairy


I stayed off dairy products until he was about 8 months old because dairy is a common allergen, but it is generally considered okay to give yogurt. I suggest home-made yogurt if you do decide to give it. Cow's milk, of course, should ideally be given past one year but can be used in cooking if you are certain of no allergies. I had started feeding yogurt and butter before I ventured into cheeses.

Spices

This was an important concern for me because we eat spices a lot and I wanted him to get used to the taste! Post about 9-10 months, it is generally okay to use tiny quantities of the following spices in combination or separately. Remember, they also have many beneficial properties.
  • Cinnamon
  • Bay leaves
  • Black pepper
  • Cloves
  • Green cardamon
  • Coriander
  • Turmeric

Do not use red pepper until around the second birthday, because red pepper really doesn't have many benefits and can be harsh on the stomach. Whole green chillies can be added to food for flavouring and then removed.

Finger Food

We didn't really get into finger foods until Little Dude's first birthday because he didn't like them. But most babies are ready some time after 9 months. It is important that they should be able to pick and feed themselves these. Some basic types of finger food are:
  • Cheese (mild cheddar is good)
  • Banana slices
  • Watermelon 
  • Teething biscuits
  • Soft carrot
  • Steamed broccoli

The possibilities are endless! Just ensure it's not too hard to 'gum' and doesn't represent a choking hazard (such as popcorn and whole grapes). Nuts should not be given until much later.

Traditional/Local food

Don't hesitate to incorporate vegetables and fruits that you eat traditionally into your baby's diet. It will help him adapt to your table food with time! Also, fresh and local produce is best.

Resources:
Two online resources have been invaluable to me:
Wholesome baby food
WHO Nutrition Publications (see complementary feeding)

Important Notes:
  • If the parents have a history of family allergies or suspect any, consult with your doctor first.
  • Every child prefers different textures and tastes. Some babies do not like purees at all, and may be ready for finely mashed food early on. Some will skip straight to finger food!
  • Salt, sugar and honey should not be given until 12 months.

Happy feeding! Please feel free to share your tips below.

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