Starting solids

I have been asked a million questions around how I started solids with Baby Zand, how I make sure she gets enough nutrients, and how I get broccoli in her. There seems to be so much information out there for new moms, which is just plainly overwhelming and often confusing. Pediatricians can only give you limited answers in the short amount of catch up time you have with them once a month. I will share some more things about the path I chose with Baby Zand in upcoming posts, plus all my tips and tricks for happy eating.

Wanting to do things differently...

Just when you got the hang of your feeding schedule, it all changes: time to start with solids! Long before I ever thought of having a baby, I knew I wanted to do things differently (clearly, that is my personality :-)). These were my main concerns:

  • After working with so many moms on their nutrition, their main concern was always that they would have to cook two meals: one nutritious one for them and their husbands, and one mac and cheese one for the kids, so they at least eat something. I get it, who has the time for that? I don't!

  • Sitting in a restaurant, I never wanted to be the mom that carries containers of food for baby, only to have baby throw a tantrum in the high chair. There must be a different way?!

  • So many of my clients fight an ongoing battle of getting something healthy in their child, that they vehemently oppose. Such a draining process - 3 times a day!

  • Airplanes, choo choo trains, iPads, and other distractions are so common for most parents to get their child to eat something. Shouldn't meal time be an enjoyable time for everyone?

  • Most families I work with rotate between 3 favorite dishes, that everyone will eat. I don't want to eat pizza, mac and cheese, and chicken nuggets for the rest of my life.

Yes, most people think that my reasons for wanting to do something different are very selfish. Maybe they seem like this now, but in the end isn't the goal for everyone to have a healthy, happy child? I honestly believe that starting solids and continuing food is such a difficult topic for most families, that it overshadows the joy of sharing a nutritious meal at the table, and sharing the fun adventures of the day.

How do you not let it get this far?

My biggest question was, how do you not let it get this far? Some resistance from a child is normal, as they start testing their boundaries. However, while studying how human eating behavior develops, it was very interesting to see that babies are actually born with very adventurous taste buds. They have an affinity for sweet things, hence mother's breast milk is sweet, but are open towards trying new things. This is the time to introduce them to sour, bitter, and even a bit of spice!

It starts in the womb

If you are not an adventurous eater, don't expect your child to be. While you are carrying this wonderful baby, you are nourishing it with every bite you eat. Honestly, I lived on saltines for the first trimester, and am surprised Baby Zand didn't come out asking for one. As I got better at handling my nausea, I started eating a variety of foods again: Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Italian; you name it, I had it! This sets up baby with a taste of everything. Once we started solids, Baby Zand was eager to get her hands on everything and taste it for real this time. If you were one of the unlucky ones, who was only able to survive on tubs of ice cream, don't fret, it's not too late to get your baby to be adventurous!

When to start solids?

Guidelines vary depending on the country you live in, but it's somewhere between 4-6 months. This is vague information, and I personally think not very useful. Every baby will eat, you just have to give them time to be interested in it. We don't push a baby to walk before it's ready. So we should also wait until baby is ready to eat. These are the top milestones I believe you should look out for, to check baby is ready for her solids adventure:

  • Baby is showing interest in the foods you eat. Have her sit on your lap while you are eating. Maybe she stares at the bites disappearing from your plate into your mouth. Maybe she grabs something from your plate or wants to touch the food on your fork. Let her show interest in food, let her touch it, and explore it.

  • Baby can sit upright by herself. Baby associates lying down and being nursed by you with calming bonding time, often ending in a happy sleepy baby. Starting solids is a very different experience. You don't want to eat while lying down, since it's not very comfortable, so neither does baby. She wants to be part of sitting at the table, so make sure baby can sit up in her high chair.

  • Baby should be able to grab food (and toys) by herself.

These milestones are things you can observe, and they show you that baby is ready for solids on the inside. What happens on the inside?

  • The digestive tract goes through a big growth spurt between 4-8 months. In the early months, the digestive tract is kind of like a fence. There are a lot of gaps to let nutrients from the breast milk through. Over time, the fence turns into a brick wall, meaning there are no more holes. Big chunks of food or potential allergens now can't get through and have to be broken down properly first. This is when baby's digestion is ready to handle whatever solids you give her.

  • The tongue-thrust reflex recedes after baby is 4 months old. This reflex is a natural protection for baby in case she ingests anything solid at an early age. The tongue thrust reflex moves the solid object straight forward to the tip of the tongue and out of the mouth to prevent baby from choking. Starting solids while baby still has this reflex clearly doesn't make any sense.

  • Teeth can be helpful but not necessary right away. The gums are hard enough to gnaw on pieces of fruit or veggies in the beginning. However, the more teeth baby has, the easier it gets with solids.

All of these milestones happen at different stages. Baby Zand was eager to get her hands on food just after she turned 4 months, and this was very early. Some of my clients' babies are not ready until 9 or 10 months. Don't worry about it, just keep checking how interested your baby is in food, and don't force anything.

Purees or real food?

While my Thermomix is amazing at steaming and pureeing veggies to make my own baby food, I think most parents feel overwhelmed with the idea of pureeing combinations of veggies and fruit, freezing the purees into cubes, and spoon feeding them to their baby. I decided to use a method called baby led weaning instead, which introduces baby to real food right away. I will write more about this method next time.

Milk is still the primary nutrient source

Whether you are breast feeding or giving formula, these milk feeds are still the primary source of nutrients for your baby up until they are 1 year old (or even longer if you and them choose so). Until then, just see meal time as play time. Let them explore the feeling and textures of different foods. It's not necessary to think in our terms of food: did they get their protein and vegetables? They will get these from the milk. Too many parents stress too early about the nutrients, and baby can sense this stress. Relax and enjoy this fun time of exploring and learning with your baby instead!

More on baby led weaning next time!

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