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The Introduction of Solids: A Guide for Parents

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The introduction of solids is an exciting but daunting stage for most parents. Just when you’ve mastered milk feeds, and your baby is settling into a routine, it’s time to think about solids. 

Getting Ready for Solids

The good news is that introducing solids doesn’t have to happen quickly. Both you and your baby need to be ready. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Your baby’s readiness, your preference, and your child’s health needs will impact the method you choose. Before 12 months of age, the main aim of solids is to help babies develop a positive relationship with food and develop the oral motor skills needed for managing food.

When to Start Introducing Solids

A baby needs to start solids by 6 months of age. Before this age, your baby gets all their nutrition from milk. A baby may start solids sooner, but this must not be before 17 weeks.

Granny’s advice to give a baby cereal in the bottle from 6 weeks of age to help them sleep better or give them pap (mielie meal) to fatten them up is a definite NO! Adhere to the specific signs of readiness to ensure your baby develops a healthy relationship with food and consciously leads the process.

If you start your baby earlier than 6 months, it is usually just for exposure to food and a sensory experience rather than nutrition. They must display signs of readiness. It also provides time for caregivers to introduce allergy foods early and take things slowly.

Signs Your Child is Ready for Solids

Your baby must have developed the skills necessary to eat safely. Look for these signs:

  • Holds their head up while seated in an infant feeding seat.
  • Opens their mouth when food comes close.
  • Brings objects to their mouth.
  • Tries to grasp small objects like toys.
  • Moves food from a spoon into their mouth without letting it dribble out.

Also read: Feeding Introduction to Solids

Importance of Solids from 6 Months

Solids play a crucial role in your child’s health, especially regarding iron and zinc. Babies are born with good iron stores, acquired in the womb from their mum. By 6 months, these stores are depleted. While there is some iron in breast milk and formula, it is insufficient. Your baby now needs food for essential nutrients for growth and development.

Experiencing solids helps babies learn to eat. Exposing them to various tastes and textures is critical for establishing a balanced diet and tolerance to different foods. Chewing solids is also essential for developing jaw, tongue, and facial muscles, necessary for swallowing solid food and speaking.

Methods for Introducing Solids

Spoon Feeding

  • The caregiver is in charge. The caregiver puts food onto a spoon and offers it to the baby, starting with pureed foods, then progressing to lumpy mash, soft finger foods, and soft family meals. Ensure the baby is willing to participate and not tricked into eating.

Tips for Spoon Feeding:

  • Breastfed babies are more open to increased flavours, while formula-fed babies may need more time to adjust.
  • The baby must show interest in the food, lean towards the spoon, and open their mouth.
  • The baby must be sitting upright to prevent choking.
  • Choose a relaxed time to try solids, such as a weekend.
  • Follow the baby’s cues; do not force-feed.
  • Use two spoons: one for the baby to play with and one for feeding.
  • Let the baby go at their own pace and model eating from a spoon.

Baby Led Weaning (BLW)

  • The baby is in charge, suitable for children 6 months and older. The baby starts with finger foods that need to be chewed and natural purees. The baby sits at the table with the family, choosing what and how much to eat.

Tips for Baby-Led Weaning:

  • Ensure the baby has necessary trunk and neck control and can sit up in a feeding chair.
  • Offer foods with sufficient iron and zinc, supplementing if necessary.
  • Keep most food soft and easy to chew.
  • Be careful of choking hazards; always supervise the baby.
  • Offer a variety of foods on the plate.
  • Observe signs of fullness and end the meal if the baby shows disinterest or frustration.

Also read: Food Allergies: The Things Parents Want to Know

Combining Spoon Feeding and BLW

Combining both methods can be effective. For example, feeding a child with iron-rich porridge or pureed meat ensures vital nutrients are not lacking. This combination helps avoid resistance to new textures and tastes, promoting a balanced diet.

Conclusion

Ultimately, we want a child with a healthy attitude towards food, eating a wide variety of foods by 1 year of age. Introduce potential allergy foods early and focus on making the experience positive and engaging. There are no strict rules; find what works best for your family and enjoy the process of introducing solids.

References

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