How do we get started with solids?

Watch your baby, not the calendar!

If baby refuses solids, try again later (maybe a week or two), and maybe with a different food. Some babies may refuse solids until 8-9 months or even longer.

Should solids replace breastmilk?

No. Solids during the first year are only meant to complement breastmilk, not take precedence over it or replace any breastfeedings. It is more of a way to add textures to the baby’s diet, to allow the baby new experiences, and to help her develop hand/eye coordination through finger feeding. Your baby should still be allowed to nurse on demand, as your milk should be her primary source of nutrition until closer to the end of the first year. Continuing to allow on-demand feedings also better ensures your milk supply.

Complementary Feeding

How often and how much?

Introduce your baby gradually to solid foods. Once she accepts them (it might take some time), continue breastfeeding as often as before and add solids as your baby’s appetite increases. A few bites once a day is enough in the beginning, but gradually increase. Following are some general guidelines – if baby starts solids later than six months, then proceed in a similar manner, at baby’s pace.

Solids Liquids
0 – 4 months Breastmilk only Breastmilk only
4 – 6 months Breastmilk onlySee also: What if my 4-5 month old seems developmentally ready for solids? Continue nursing on cue.When your 4 – 6 month old baby is learning to use a cup, giving him a few sips of expressed breastmilk or water (no more than 2 ounces per 24 hours) a couple of times a day is fine and fun.
6 – 7 months Offer solids once a day, at most. Many start out offering solids every few days or even less often. Continue nursing on cue. Solid foods should not replace nursing sessions unless you’re actively weaning.Limit water to SIPS from a cup with meals.

Juice is not necessary for baby’s nutrition. If you offer juice, limit to sips from a cup with meals and introduce it gradually just like any other new food. It’s best to dilute juice with water and limit total juice intake to no more than 3-4 ounces a day.

7 – 9 months Watch baby’s cues – this is particularly easy if baby nurses beforehand and most/all of the solids are offered to baby to self-feed. Increase solids gradually if baby is interested, with a maximum of 2 meals per day.
9 – 12 months Watch baby’s cues – this is particularly easy if baby nurses beforehand and most/all of the solids are offered to baby to self-feed. Increase solids gradually if baby is interested. Aim for baby getting no more than 25% of her calories from solids by the age of 12 months (some babies eat less than this at 12 months and that’s also normal).

If your baby is younger than a year (and you are not weaning), make sure that you always nurse before offering solids. Babies who start solids early, and babies who eat a lot of solids tend to wean earlier.

It often works well to offer the solids about an hour after you nurse. If nursing has come before the solids you can continue feeding your baby the solids until she shows signs of fullness; i.e. turning her head, closing her mouth, batting at the spoon, wanting down, spitting the food out, etc. (trying to feed past this point is overfeeding). Most babies will balance their milk intake with their solid food intake well if you feed in this way.

For babies older than a year, see Nutrition for Nursing Toddlers.

There is no exact science to introducing solids. Just do your best to follow your baby’s cues about when to increase the amount of solids, and take care to ensure that breastmilk remains baby’s primary source of nutrition for the first year.

Should I offer solids before or after nursing?

What we’re aiming for during the first year is to have solids complementing breastmilk, not replacing it. This means that when solids are introduced the breastfeeding pattern is not interrupted at all, but baby is fed solids in slowly increasing amounts as his appetite increases. Baby will be getting about the same amount of breastmilk  as he gets older, with increasing amounts of solids on top of that.

I think the main point in the matter is maintaining breastmilk as baby’s main source of nutrition throughout the first year. This is important both to baby’s good nutrition and good health. The nutrients in breastmilk are particularly important for growth and development during baby’s first year. In addition, some (but certainly not all) of the health benefits of breastfeeding are directly related to the degree of exclusivity of breastfeeding (the greater the percentage of baby’s diet made up of breastmilk, the greater the health benefit).

Nursing before (rather than after) the solids is a good way to help keep the transition to solids proceeding slowly so that mom’s milk supply is maintained and baby gets the breastmilk that he needs.

See also Sustained Breastfeeding, Complementation and Care by Ted Greiner, Ph.D.

Some reasons to nurse first:

  • Too many solids too early often leads to early weaning, whether or not mom intended to wean early. Giving baby solids first (depending upon how often, how much, etc.) could start you down this road.
  • Many babies, if they eat solids first, will take in less milk afterwards even if they nurse just as long.
  • If you nurse first you don’t really have to worry if you’re giving baby too many solids – you can just go ahead and let her have as much as she wants.

On the other hand, feeding solids before nursing might work very well for you if:

  • You’re making sure that nursing stays primary by limiting amounts & frequency of solids and increasing both very gradually.
  • You’re planning on weaning early (between 6 and 12 months) or are already in the process of weaning

What if my baby refuses all or most solids?

A lot of babies are slow to take to solids. It’s not uncommon for some babies to take several months once solids have been introduced before they really take to them well. Babies who are slow to teethe and babies who have food sensitivities are often the ones who are slower to begin eating solids. This “slowness” may be their bodies’ way of protecting them until the digestive system is more ready to accept new foods.

Rest assured that as long as your baby is continuing to gain weight and grow as she should, your milk is meeting her needs well. Solids during the first year should only *complement* your milk anyway. Your milk should still be the primary source of nutrition for most of the first year.

All you need to do is to continue to *offer* foods. Don’t worry if she’s not interested or takes very small amounts. Your only true responsibility is what you offer and when you offer it, not whether or not baby eats it. That has to be up to her. Trying to force, coax, cajole, etc. her into eating is never recommended.

Some babies prefer to eat foods that they can pick up and feed themselves, rather than foods that must be spooned to them. A lot of babies, also, would rather have food right off the table than the blander-tasting baby foods. Try offering your baby a variety of finger foods (see below) during family mealtime.

You may also find that it’s helpful to make finger foods readily available throughout the day, so that baby can “graze” often. Some parents keep a variety of foods out in an ice cube or muffin tray. Small children often need to take in several smaller snacks throughout the day rather than eating 3 large meals.

It’s best to follow your baby’s cues to determine how much

and how often she wants to eat solid foods.

See also:

Guidelines for implementing a baby-led approach to the introduction of solid foods

from the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative (abstract)

Guidelines for implementing a baby-led approach to the introduction of solid foods by Gill Rapley, adapted by Stefan Kleintjes

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