Introducing Solid foods, the basics
An interview with Brittany Sharpe McCollum of Blossoming Bellies Wholistic Birth Services
How do I know when my infant is ready for solid foods?
Solid food readiness is more accurately determined by a series of developmental milestones rather than simply an age. Although most babies are ready somewhere around six months, there are always exceptions. It’s important that babies are able to sit up on their own, that they have lost the tongue thrust reflex (that instinct to push things out of their mouth with the tongue), and that they show an interest in the food others are eating (not just reaching for it but intently staring and possibly even mimicking chewing motions!).
What are some good first foods (does it need to be baby cereal?) and how often can I introduce a new food?
Fruits and vegetables are ideal first foods for babies. Higher protein foods are a challenge for the baby’s digestive system until about eight months of age. For babies that are exclusively breastfed, starting with low iron foods (such as bananas and moving on to high iron foods (yams, for example) once they are eating consistently will help to ensure the iron in breastmilk is still well absorbed. For babies drinking formula, higher iron foods are ideal with which to begin. Here is a great article linking to lots of research all about iron.
What are the Signs of a food allergy?
According to the CDC, food allergies in children under 18 years of age occur about 3.9% of the time and many allergies will be outgrown over time. Signs of a true allergy include blood in the stools, a rash around the mouth or anus, a skin rash (such as hives or eczema), vomiting, itchiness in the mouth or ears, diarrhea, congestion or runny nose, sneezing, coughing. These more mild reactions usually occur at the second introduction of the food (within a few minutes to a few hours later) and continued introduction can lead to more serious side effects such as trouble swallowing and shortness of breath. To help keep an eye on potential allergens, parents can introduce a new food and then wait three or four days, offering it several times over that period, before offering another new food. This makes it easier to pinpoint what food may be causing an allergy and easier to keep an eye on reactions.
How can i prevent my child from becoming a picky eater?
Research shows that food preferences are formed in the first few years of life and that children most often take on the eating habits of their parents. Encouraging the child to try the foods that the parent eats (rather than expecting them to have “kids menu” foods such as chicken fingers and mac and cheese) will help to develop habits that will be more likely to stick with them as they grow older. Early introduction of a diet rich in varied colors and textures and flavors helps children to develop an interest in exploring the differences between foods and can impact their food preferences long-term. Focusing on minimally processed foods - real food - and offering only healthy options (rather than giving in to a toddler who is begging for a cookie rather than eating their dinner) also helps. Toddlers are notorious for turning down foods they loved just days prior. Continuing to make those foods available every few days, rather than writing them off for good, will help them to maintain their familiarity and encourage them to be accepted again into the diet.
(Fisher JO, Mitchell DC, Smiciklas-Wright H, Birth LL. Parental influences on young girls’ fruit and vegetable, micronutrient, and fat intakes. J Am Diet Assoc 2002; 102(1): 58-64.)
Interested in learning more?
Brittany facilitates a workshop, “Infant Nutrition and Solid Food Introduction,” at Mama’s Wellness Joint in Center City Philadelphia every few months. The workshop is ideal for parents with a child two months to one year of age.
Class topics include:
- The basics of childhood nutrition and the introduction of solid foods to the breastfed and/or formula fed infant
- Water intake, iron, and vitamin D in the exclusively breastfed baby
- The "cereal myth" and signs of readiness for solid foods
- A food introduction timeline is discussed including the foods with which to begin and how to know the baby is getting enough
- Common food-related concerns and food allergies - how to avoid them and how to detect allergic reactions
- Tips on encouraging healthy eating habits and adventurous palates
- Basic instruction and tips on making baby food at home
- Suggestions on books and websites for more information
- Meeting the child's nutritional needs while adhering to alternative diets including that of the vegan and vegetarian diet
Time is allowed for questions and handouts are provided for families to take home.
Brittany Sharpe McCollum, CCE(BWI), CD(DONA) is owner of Blossoming Bellies Wholistic Birth Services in Philadelphia, where she empowers families to be informed decision makers throughout their pregnancy, birth, and parenting journeys. In addition to her infant and toddler nutrition workshops, she is well known for her childbirth classes and pelvic dynamics workshops as well as her doula services and breastfeeding support. Her passion for health, movement, and nourishment is threaded throughout her work with expectant and new families, encouraging parents to play an active role in their family’s wellness. Brittany lives in South Philly with her partner and three children.