Transitioning to Solid Foods? Let Your Baby Lead the Way
When it comes to first-time parenting, there’s no shortage of self-help books, doctor’s orders and
familial advice to make milestones easier. However, with so many different ideas and opinions, it can be difficult to decide what’s best for your child.
In the case of their first foods, experts say it may be best to let your child decide.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
“Baby-led weaning is a Baby-Friendly initiative from the World Health Organization,” said Steven A. Shapiro, DO, chair, Department of Pediatrics at Abington - Jefferson Health. “The recommendation is exactly as it sounds: Mothers are to feed exclusively with milk—preferably breastmilk—for at least six months, then begin offering solids over time as the baby shows interest.”
This theory was developed to maximize the nutritional and emotional impact of breastfeeding, while minimizing the financial and logistical issues that come with introducing foods in areas where nutritious options might be scarce.
However, Dr. Shapiro reminds us that this recommendation isn’t perfect for every mother or for every baby.
“We acknowledge that breastmilk is best for the baby’s early development, but there can be issues with production volume around six months, and some babies might be showing an interest in foods much sooner. We don’t want to discourage that,” said Dr. Shapiro.
In fact, babies have been known to show interest in solid foods as early as four months.
The process of eating solid foods tones the muscles of the mouth and tongue, laying the groundwork for early language, a vital part of cognitive development. Introducing different foods also assists in the development of a healthy gut, as a variety of foods encourages the growth of “good” bacteria.
Reading the Signs
Dr. Shapiro recommends bringing your baby to the table beginning at four months, so they can see and experience solid foods. If they are reacting to the colors and shapes, or beginning to grab for what you are eating, it’s safe and healthy to give them a taste.
“If they begin to show interest in what you’re eating, that is their way of signaling that they are ready for this step,” he said. “There’s no medical reason to hold them back.”
Fruits and vegetables are a great place to start, as they rarely cause allergic reactions and have few potentially inflammatory ingredients. Dr. Shapiro recommend carrots, string beans, peaches, bananas and squash. Rice-based cereal and barley are also an option down the road. Your doctor may even recommend the introduction of peanut products, as research shows early introduction reduces the risk of intolerance.
All early foods should be mashed with a fork, as the bites should be manageable but textured. That texture will encourage the activation of oral muscles but if they don’t take to the new foods right away, don’t worry.
“If they seem interested in the foods but don’t take it on the first try, that’s okay,” said Dr. Shapiro. “Just take your time. This is a learning experience as much as it is about nutrition.”
Your pediatrician will keep a close eye on your baby’s growth and development and let you know if your baby needs a change in nutrition.
“When your baby is ready, they will let you know,” said Dr. Shapiro. “I don’t tell moms how to feed their baby, because they will give you the signs—just don’t be afraid.”