Like many parenting trails you will find yourself on, feeding is a twisty one with sharp turns and different opinions. Fending off the onslaught of advice of which way to feed your baby will be tough. As with sleep, there are some hard and fast safety rules, but afterwards, much is up for interpretation by you, the parent. Understanding some of the developmental goals in regard to starting solid food should be paramount.
In general, at baby doc box we promote these tenets: feed your baby at the table from the start of solid food introduction, honor their hunger and fullness cues, never use pressure tactics when feeding your baby (no airplane noises, no distraction techniques, no sneaking in “one last bite,” no screens or devices at the table–never, ever), learn the difference between gagging and choking, and take an infant or child CPR class before introducing solid foods.
Just like learning head control, then rolling, then sitting follows a sequential pattern, so does learning the motor skills involved in eating solids. First, an infant should be able to sit up fairly well. The trunk muscles that this requires are an important precursor to successfully eating solid foods. Additionally, an infant who is ready for solids will show significant interest in the process. An infant watching you eat or tracking you with their eyes and head is sometimes mistaken as a sign that they are ready to start solids. Most four-month-olds are developing this skill in many settings. A baby ready for solids is doing more than just watching you eat, somewhere between four and six months, the watching and tracking progresses to more active interest and borderline frustration with their desire to participate. When your baby is sitting and actively demonstrating interest, they are showing you that they are developmentally ready to begin eating solid foods. Use your baby’s behavior as your guide for when to start this exciting and fun process.
Remember that solid food introduction is just that, an introduction. Think of it as a six to nine-month process of transitioning from a fully dependent liquid diet to an independent solid food experience. That’s a long road! And most of the journey is not about nutrition but about oral motor and fine motor skills. Weird, right?! Your baby’s developing brain and body is still getting most of the nutrition it needs from breast milk or formula well into the second half of the first year of life.
With practice a baby should progress from tongue thrusting to bringing soft food back into the mouth, grouping it together into a bolus that then becomes safe to swallow. Sounds simple enough, but there are many complex and coordinated neuromuscular events that need to happen to bring all this together safely and effectively. Not many parents stop to think about all that is going on with solid food introduction, but it is an amazing symphony of anatomy and development.
One of the most common feeding questions we do get is, “How much do I feed my baby?” The good news is this is easy to answer: let your baby decide. As we mentioned above, it is important to remember starting solids is primarily about motor skill building and not nutrition. Think of mealtime as an opportunity to practice skills rather than a race to see how much volume you can get into them.
The modern convenience of pureed pouches is therefore both a mother’s blessing and the pediatrician’s curse. Squeezing purees from a pouch into your baby’s mouth provides them little opportunity for learning and skill building. The pouches are about quickly and efficiently getting food into your baby’s mouth. They are an excellent diaper bag resource for an on the go snack for a hungry babe but should not be a primary tool for feeding your baby.
There are many confusing messages out there when it comes to figuring out what is best for starting solid foods. As with most things in medicine, especially in pediatrics, we give advice based on the best existing evidence, learning from past mistakes and reaching forward toward new discoveries. This is some food for thought about feeding. We will dive more into allergen introduction and nutrition with our future feeding frenzy posts.