Helping your baby move from milk or formula to solid foods can be one of the most joyful moments of parenthood, but it can also be a time full of tantrums and tears.
"I found feeding time extremely frustrating, but a great bonding experience," says Karen Trudgill, a mother of two.
Making sure your baby gets the food they need to grow and develop during their first year is crucial, so how do you make the transition as smooth and successful as possible? Here, Karen and three other parents who've been through the process share what they learned.
Spot The Signs of Hunger
It may come as a surprise to learn that crying is not always a sign of hunger. Your baby might have a "hunger cry" that you'll recognize over time, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), but this is usually a sign that he or she has been hungry for a while.
"In our experience, a happy or calm baby feeds far better," says mom of two, Melissa Bate. The AAP says the pre-cry cues to look out for all revolve around your baby's focus on food. If they're following it with their eyes, reaching for it with their hands, or getting excited by it, then they're probably ready to eat.
From Liquids To Solids
As no two babies are ever completely alike, children are ready for solid foods at different times. Readiness depends on individual development. "As we discovered, having twins, every baby reaches that ready-for-solids point at their own speed," says mom Sarah Burdett. "The important thing is to discuss when and how to introduce solids with your pediatrician beforehand."
The AAP suggests babies may be ready to start trying solid foods once their birth weight has doubled, around four months old. However, HealthyChildren.org, a publication from the AAP, notes breast milk or formula should be the sole source of nutrition for your baby until they reach 6 months old and the main source until their first birthday. You'll want to discuss this with your pediatrician who can make a recommendation based specifically on your baby's development.
Other signs to look out for include your baby's ability to hold their head up, opening their mouth when food is near, and the ability to move food from their lips to their throat to swallow.
Good Foods and Foods to Avoid
Start your baby with new solid foods slowly. The AAP suggests infant cereal, puréed bananas, and puréed prunes to start. Introduce each new food at least 2-3 days apart to spot any potential allergies. Speak to your pediatrician if your baby experiences diarrhea, vomiting or a rash after trying these simple solids.
To give your baby a healthy diet, foods high in sugar and salt should be avoided. "Read the packaging on everything you pick up," says Craig Gannon, a father of two. "What you don't realize is that sugar and salt are in everything, even supposedly healthy things."
Foods like processed cheese, instant pudding, canned vegetables, and canned soups will often have higher levels of sodium, according to the AAP. Likewise, children under 12 months old should never drink juice. Juice is high in sugar, offers no nutritional benefit at this age, and will cause baby to lose an appetite for more nutritious options like breast milk or formula.
Be aware too that sugars and salts may be labeled differently on packaging. For example, sugars can be listed as fructose or sucrose. "You can get slightly obsessed, poring over the packaging," laughs Craig, "but that's part of the job!"
It’s also important to look out for foods that pose potential choking hazards. Chunks of raw carrots, apples, hot dogs, grapes, peanuts, and popcorn are the foods that the AAP says must never be fed to a baby. Once your baby is ready for solids, all other food should be cut into pieces smaller than a dime for safe consumption.
Experiencing New Flavors and Textures
Don't expect your baby to stick to a set menu after transitioning to solids. At this stage, their appetite and taste changes constantly and what they devour one moment they may not be interested in the next.
"There was often no rhyme or reason to what our babies would eat and what they'd spit straight out," says Sarah. "It gets frustrating when they keep refusing what you offer them, particularly when yesterday they loved it.” The key thing is to not give up. “We were told it takes 10-15 offerings for a baby to accept some foods, so patience and perseverance are key.”
To get her children more accustomed to unfamiliar foods, Karen explains she "started with one tablespoon of food, puréed, then introduced a new food every three or four days, slowly building up to mashed and then to small chunks."
Eventually, when your baby is sitting up on their own and bringing objects to their mouth, they will be ready to try finger foods. The AAP suggests starting with finger foods that are cut small, soft and easy-to-swallow. Wafer-type cookies or crackers, scrambled eggs and well-cooked pasta can get you started. Just remember to take things slowly as you watch for potential allergic reactions.
"We gave our babies chunks of banana and avocado," says Melissa. "It was fun to hand them a piece of food and watch them chomp away at it—and the clean-up afterward was a whole lot easier!" Huggies Wipes can help make clean-up easier, too. They can work double duty for diapering and cleaning up spills and messes with gentle care for your baby's skin.
Savor the Moment
Mealtime is a great bonding experience between parents and children. You'll experience both frustrating moments when you clean up smeared food from the floor and joyful moments as you see your baby learning to try new things and love your favorite meals.
Our parents' last piece of advice for feeding your child? "Enjoy it while you can—it all goes by so fast," says Melissa.