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Flashback: starting solids

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Flashback: starting solids

I've had a comment from an anonymous reader asking me for some information on starting solids. I'm happy to help, but just remember I'm not an expert. I've only had experience with one child, so I can only tell you my experiences so far and point out same places to go for more information. Thinking about starting solids has reminded me that it is almost a year since Alexis first tried solid food. Almost a year, goodness me the time has flown.

When to start introducing solids
Corey and I started Alexis on solids somewhere between 4 and 5 months old. The official advice these days is to wait until 6 months, but we knew that Alexis was well and truly ready. We were observing signs in her such as head and neck control, watching us eat, sitting up well with support, pretending to eat, putting toys in her mouth, and pretty much crying for food whenever she saw us eating. We checked her over with a child health nurse to get the go ahead but you don't have to do this.

What to start with
For the current recommendations on what to start introducing to your baby and when it's best to check out the child health information you received in hospital when your child was born (if you got one. I got one in the red child health folder), or websites such as baby centre or kidspot.

It's best to avoid things that can cause allergies until bub is older and his/her digestive system is more mature. Things that the 'experts' say to avoid are nuts, eggs, wheat, fish, dairy, mushrooms and honey until between 8 and 12 months (different for different foods). Some bubs are also allergic to strawberries so keep that in mind.

We started with Farex (baby rice cereal) for the first few days. I know many people who don't try farex they just go straight to vegetables, which is fine. Whatever you choose you want to pick something that is relatively bland so you don't spoil baby with sweet tasty foods straight away. (Apparently this limits your chances of having a fussy toddler, although I've yet to meet a toddler who is not fussy with food, regardless of how well you start off.) It's in baby's best interest to pick something high in iron, because at about the same time they start solids their bodies start using up their iron reserves. If you use a commercial cereal like we did, prepare it with baby's usual milk (breastmilk or formula). Alexis had no idea what formula was but expressing didn't work well for me so after a few weeks of farex we started just mixing it with cooled boiled water but we added a serve of pureed pear or apple to make it more interesting and nutritious.

The order that we introduced foods to Alexis went somewhere along the lines of baby rice, sweet potato (a mistake in a way because it was so sweet, but a necessity in another way because she wasn't that keen on farex because it tastes disgusting. The sweet potato encouraged her to really take well to eating solids), pear, carrot, pumpkin, apple, potato, brocolli, banana, or something along those lines. Interestingly, Alexis still does not eat potato.

When to feed baby
Pick a time of day when you and your baby and your partner are all likely to be happy and relaxed. It's good to make sure bub is hungry but not starving. We started at lunch time on a Saturday. Personally I think it's really important to get bubs dad involved if that's possible in your situation. Corey absolutely loved feeding Alexis her solids and she benefited from the time with him and it gave me a chance to sit back and watch.

How much do you give?
Start by offering a few tablespoons. Don't sweat if baby doesn't finish it. It's disheartening preparing food that they turn their noses up at or swat away but this is an important part of them developing independence and regulating their appetite. If they gobble it all down, offer more the next time. Start with only one meal a day for a while and then you will know when bub is ready to go to two (and eventually three) meals a day because they will let you know. By 8 or 9 months bubs are usually eating three meals and having snacks during the day.

Expect a change in poo
Introducing farex will probably make bub constipated for a day or two. It's normal but it's not pleasant. Be prepared. Also, when he/she does poop it'll stink, especially if you're used to a baby with breastmilk poos. Oh, and when you start solids you pretty much get out what you put in, so don't panic when you introduce baby to sweet potato or pumpkin bubba's poop will turn orange, and when you give them brocolli it'll go green. It's quite funny really.

What equipment do you need?
All you really need is a plastic bowl and plastic spoon and bib, but I recommend you give bub their own spoon to hold to help them feel like they are a part of it. I gave Alexis a spoon for each hand to stop her grabbing at the spoon we were trying to feed her from. I also recommend you put a messy mat or old towel on the floor or just be prepared to clean up. You can either hold bub on your lap or your partner's lap (or grandparent or aunty or whoever) or use a highchair. We started with Alexis on my lap while Corey fed her, which was OK as long as I expected to get dirty. We very quickly invested in a nice soft padded highchair though so she had more independence and this was necessary when she went to two meals a day because I needed to be able to feed her by myself.

How to prepare the food:
I think steaming is best. We invested in an all-in-one steamer/blender which we used a lot in the first few months. It's good because it uses the water you cook the veggies/fruit/meat in to puree it so it maintains flavour and nutrients. The only problem with this way is that it only makes a tiny amount of food (and Alexis had a big appetite) so we soon changed to steaming on the stove and then blending in batches.

For recipe ideas ask your friends, google "baby food recipes", check out the websites I linked to earlier, or just use your gut instinct. Bubs don't need fancy food and they don't need sugar, honey or salt. We usually just cooked veggies on their own and served a variety but some vegetables puree, freeze, and reheat better when you combine them, such as mixing sweet potato with carrot and potato with brocolli. We always gave Alexis fruit with her rice cereal once she had tried fruit. I always tried to encourage her to have a drink of water with meals too.

Final advice: Make it fun!
Introducing solids is a very exciting time for you and your baby. Take your time, involve grandparents or close friends if you like, and praise your baby for giving it a go. Never rush bub. Some babies might like to be the centre of attention, others might like to eat when you eat. Go with what suits your bubs personality (and yours).

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