Introducing Solids to a Breastfed Baby
There is something incredible about watching your baby grow and learn, knowing that not only did you create them completely from scratch, but you have continued to grow them outside the womb by giving the best food nature has to offer, breastmilk! There is so much hard work that goes into those first few months of breastfeeding and, whatever your breastfeeding story, those efforts deserve a little round of applause, mama.
But there does come a point in every breastfeeding journey where you or baby, or both, start to think about adding in complementary foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age. After that point, you can assess your baby’s readiness by cues such as sitting and holding their head up well, being able to swallow food put in their mouth rather than just pushing it out with their tongue, and showing interest in food. Obviously every baby is different, so talk with your pediatrician about if your baby is ready to start complementary foods.
This time is different for every mother; some find it a relief to have other options for a seemingly always-hungry peanut, others find it hard to give up the closeness that comes from being the only thing their baby needs, and still others are excited to introduce their little one to the wonderful tastes and experiences food has to offer. Whatever your situation, there are some universal tips to help make adding solid foods a smooth process for you and your baby.
Let Baby Set the Pace
Even if you get the green light to start trying foods, your baby may not have that much interest at first and that’s okay. Breastfeeding is still going to be the primary source of nutrition for quite a while. Offer small amounts of food in a variety of tastes and soft textures and remember that funny faces are normal (it can take up to 10 exposures before babies accept and enjoy a new food!). Don’t ever force a food and continue to allow them to breastfeed on demand; they’ll increase their interest in food as time goes on.
Or the opposite may be true and your little one may discover they like food A LOT and want to eat more often than you anticipated. They might even lose some interest in breastfeeding and save it for more infrequent, quiet moments. It’s perfectly fine to offer a hungry little foodie 3 meals per day; they and your body will adapt to give them the same amount of bresastmilk just in larger, less frequent amounts.
Create a Routine
In those early months of starting solids it’s not so much about calories (your liquid gold has that covered) as it is about building a healthy relationship with food and incorporating your family values and culture into meal times. It can be hard to get a busy family all around the table for meals at the same time, but aim for once per day (even if that means getting out of bed 15 minutes earlier) where you can sit together, unplugged, and enjoy each other’s company while you eat. Babies who aren’t even eating solids yet can be brought to the table on someone’s lap or in a high chair, just to feel included and see how everyone else eats.
Serve your baby food in a certain place or around the same time each day so they know what to expect and can learn to recognize their hunger cues in relation to meal times as they grow.
Be sure to adjust or keep your routines for breastfeeding too, so your little one knows they can always count on that last sleepy feeding in the rocking chair before bed, first thing in the morning, or whatever works for the two of you.
Keep It Simple
A quick Pinterest search for baby food will show you that the world of infant cuisine knows no bounds. But there really is no reason for you to spend all day in the kitchen making sure your baby gets pureed salmon and apricot in a crystal bowl. You want to make sure to include a variety of tastes and textures, but don’t overextend yourself in the process (most kids list mac and cheese as a favorite food at some point regardless of how fancy their first choices).
If you want to make your baby’s food, go for it! If you want to buy it already made from the grocery store shelves, that’s fine too! What many people find is that once they figure out what food is, babies don’t want the pureed stuff at all and will break their necks trying to reach what’s on YOUR plate! So keep it simple, mama. Model eating a variety of fresh, colorful foods, drinking water, and sharing meals as a social activity. Almost anything you eat can be modified by steaming or dicing to make it appropriate for sharing with your little one. So don’t stress, have fun with it.