Is it time for your baby to venture into the world of solid food? Breast milk is the only food necessary for your little one until they show signs of needing solid food, around the middle of the first year of life. La Leche League International recommends letting baby lead the way when it comes to weaning and starting solids, saying that “ideally the breastfeeding relationship will continue until baby outgrows the need.” Allowing your baby to lead the way promotes independence in eating, and helps your child to develop a healthy relationship with food. Your job as parent in terms of food and nutrition from the moment your baby starts eating solid food until they reach a level of independence (years later) is to offer a variety of healthy options in safe shapes, sizes, portions and textures. Your child’s job is to be in charge of how much they eat. Early on, your baby can experience the taste of whole foods through a self-led approach which will set the pace of how much they want to eat.

Watch for signs that baby is ready.
Taking cues from your baby on when he wants to eat solid foods is an extension of breastfeeding on demand. While sitting on your lap at the dinner table, you may notice that your little one may take your hand and redirect your fork to his open mouth. It doesn’t get more obvious than that!

Other signs to notice are:

• intently watching others eat

• making little noises and sucking motions with mouth

• drooling

Developmental milestones and foods to offer:
Keep in mind that no two babies are alike, and they will not all meet developmental milestones at the same time. It is helpful to be aware of the importance of these milestones so you can be prepared to follow your baby’s cues as to when they are ready to start solids.

At six months, baby has good lip control, can extend and retract her tongue, and may reach for your spoon. She may be interested in some very soft foods at this point. When food is placed on her lower lip, she will likely draw it inward. She may even move her tongue horizontally to get at food in the side of her mouth. Foods to try from six months: soft, smooth table foods such as banana, avocado, single grain, iron-fortified infant cereal (no mixed textures yet).

At eight months, she can use her upper lip to remove food from a spoon. She is able to eat soft whole foods and mashed up table food. Her hand-to-mouth coordination is improving and she may have developed a better grip so she can finger feed. Try peeled, grated apple, pear, brown rice, mashed beans, and soft cooked mashed veggies. Iron-rich foods are important for baby, so be sure to include well-cooked shredded or slivered pieces of chicken, ground lamb or beef.

At nine months, she can chew up and down and on a diagonal. Foods to try: hard foods that dissolve (for example, graham crackers, frozen fruit pieces), soft cubes (soft cooked squash, steamed apple chunks, yams), soft chewable food with a single texture (very thin slices of meat, pasta, rice, oat ring cereal), fully cooked, well-minced meat, poultry, fish, mashed tofu, legumes.

At 12 months, your baby can drink from a cup. Her jaw can move up and down and her lips may be open during swallowing. She can bite with whatever teeth she may have, and can now manage ground, mashed or chopped food with noticeable lumps. She will choke or cough if she tries to swallow too much or eats too fast. Foods to try: soft chewable foods with mixed textures (for example, moist fully-cooked chicken pieces and veggies, macaroni and cheese, homemade baked sweet potato “fries,” spaghetti with meat sauce).

Foods associated with allergy, rash and food sensitivity:
Berries containing small, hard seeds (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries), citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruit), corn products, cow milk and dairy products (may be the most common of allergens), egg whites (yolks generally are okay), kiwi fruit, peanuts and peanut butter, shellfish.

Choking risks—not suitable for babies and toddlers:
Hotdogs (even small slices), nuts, popcorn, raw carrots and other similar hard foods, whole grapes, marshmallows and candies.

Other problem foods to avoid:
Dried fruits and fruit bars are too sticky to deal with easily and they also stick to teeth which may lead to tooth decay

Foods high in saturated fat such as fried foods are hard to digest and unhealthy

Foods high in salt. Read labels closely since there are no regulations on how much sodium is allowed in even “baby friendly” foods

Foods that contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners

Honey or corn syrup may contain botulism spores which can make babies very sick

Juice should be limited to ¼ to ½ cup per day. If you do offer juice, only offer 100 per cent unsweetened juice, but the best option is to eliminate juice completely

Even if your little one hasn’t started eating solid foods yet, it is not too early to think about how to raise a healthy eater who will make wise choices into adulthood. You can pave the way by making the very best choices for yourself and keeping your kitchen stocked with good food. At the grocery store, focus on buying foods from the perimeter of the store which is better stocked with whole foods. The food that is packaged and processed is located in the middle aisles. Embracing a “whole foods for the whole family” way of eating will clear the pathway for your child. Get in the habit of eating together every evening as a way of creating a healthy family food culture.

You’ll have time to ease into this new phase, as it could be well after their first birthday before your baby starts to favour solids over your milk. When the time comes, get out those bibs, strip down your baby, set down a tarp underneath the highchair if you have to and have a camera ready to capture those first gummy, banana-smeared smiles. As daunting and messy as it may seem, starting your little one on solids is a very short period of time in your child’s life. While your baby is discovering new tastes and textures, remember to enjoy this milestone!

Diana Hurschler RN BScN is a perinatal educator and certified breastfeeding counselor who has worked with pre- and post-natal families since 1998. Please send comments and questions to diana@hurschler.com.