When you’ve finally gotten over the newborn phase and settled in a happy predictable pattern with your baby, it can be quite stressful to venture into the unknown world of solid food.
You’ll be once again inundated with advice – sometimes incorrect, sometimes unhelpful – and you might be worried about how starting solids will impact on your baby, your daily life (and night life!) and your dining room floor!
Here, we focus on four of the most frustrating things about starting solids and share our tips on how to survive them!
Starting solids – a survival guide
Problem 1: Too much conflicting information on when to start and what to give!
By now, you’re probably growing weary of all the conflicting information, bad advice and judgmental opinions that come with all aspects of parenting. The best approach to dealing with this is to be informed, know your own baby and trust your instincts.
- Be informed. It is recommended (based on the NHMRC’s Infant Feeding Guidelines 2012*) that babies start solid food when they’re around 6 months old.
- The recommendations also state that new food can be introduced in any order as long as the texture is appropriate to their level of development. It is also important to include iron-rich foods in their first foods.
- The current advice on allergy prevention and starting solid food** is that babies start solid food from around 6 months of age (and not before four months) when they’re developmentally ready and preferably while still being breastfed. The advice also recommends that the introduction of common allergenic foods (peanut butter, eggs, wheat etc) should not be delayed.
- You should watch closely and wait for the signs your baby is ready for solid food. These include good head and neck control, the ability to sit upright with support and an interest in your food.
- Try to close your ears to unsolicited advice that conflicts with the current recommendations (unless of course it is coming from a trusted health care professional and if your baby has individualised needs).
Problem 2: Coping with the mess
There’s not really any good news here … sorry! Starting solids (and having children, in general, actually) is messy. There are some things you can do to reduce the mess but you will have to accept that it is for the most part, necessary for their development. Here are some tips for coping with the mess.
- Firstly, it important to understand that starting solids is an important part of your baby’s development and until they fine-tune their skills they WILL make a mess. They need plenty of practice! You could neatly spoon feed them until they are two years old but that won’t help them to development the hand-eye coordination and motor skills they need to play, draw and write!
- Of course, there are ways to minimise and contain the mess. Keep a wet facewasher nearby, buy good quality bibs and non-slip bowls/plates, make sure your highchair is simple and easy to clean and put something underneath the chair (mat, cheap vinyl tablecloth etc) to save your floor.
- If you’re eating something particularly messy (my pet hate is boiled egg) you can always eat al fresco! Take the highchair outside to a nice, shady, level part of the yard and be happy that you won’t be scraping food off the floor that day!
Problem 3: Baby is not interested in solid food
It can be frustrating when you’ve gotten yourself all psyched up for this next stage in your baby’s development and they are not matching your enthusiasm. Here are some ways to cope if your baby is not showing any interest in solid food.
- Be patient, it can take a while for babies to get into the hang of solid food. This is a completely new concept for them so give them time to get used to it.
- Don’t stress. Starting solids is important but there’s no need to stress yourself out about how much they’re eating. Just keep offering a mix of nutritious and iron-rich foods and soon they’ll get it.
- Don’t assume your baby is ‘fussy’ or just ‘doesn’t like’ a certain food after only a few tastes. It is said that it takes at least 12 tastes before a baby will like a new food. Keep offering, even if baby turned up their nose last time.
- Trust your instincts. Talk to a trusted health care professional if you are concerned about starting solids – or any part of your child’s development.
Problem 4: Unrealistic expectations about starting solids
Have you heard that starting solids will help your baby sleep through the night? Hallelujah!! Pass me a spoon! Only problem is that it isn’t necessarily true … bummer. Here are some ways to cope with the unrealistic expectations about starting solids.
- Be informed about the realities of starting solids. Talk to trusted health care providers and follow current recommendations. Don’t hold out false hope that your baby will suddenly sleep through the night once they start solid food. It’s possible, sure, but it is also possible that solids will cause more waking or things will stay exactly as they are.
- Understand that babies don’t eat much – especially at first. A baby’s first meal of solid food will only be a few teaspoons. And they might spit most of that out! It is a good idea to read up on portion sizes and standard serves for babies and toddlers so that you know what is recommended.
- Expect that your baby will gag on food while starting solids. It looks quite frightening so it’s important to know the difference between gagging and choking. The gag reflex is your body’s way of moving food from the back of your throat to the front, to AVOID choking. If a baby is choking they’ll be distressed, silent and unable to breathe but if they are gagging they’ll be making noise and looking like they’re coughing or about to bring up their food (and occasionally they will!).
- No one expects you to spend hours preparing baby food. Save your sanity by keeping solid food simple. All food is new and exciting for a new baby! Mash up a banana, put aside some steamed carrot when you’re cooking the family meal or let baby have a go at some of the spag bol you just cooked (baby doesn’t need added salt though, so add seasoning after separating baby’s portion).
- Don’t worry about what other babies are doing. Every baby develops differently so try not to compare your baby with other babies. Follow your baby’s lead and go with the flow. Be informed and trust your instincts. If you feel like something is wrong, speak to a trusted health care provider.
*Infant Feeding Guidelines NHMRC 2012
** Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA)