7 FAQs about introducing solids to your baby: What parents should know

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Are you feeding your baby the right food? We get the “what, when and how” from the experts.

Should I introduce solids at four or six months?

The officially sanctioned age is six months, according to the World Health Organisation. That’s the time when babies need more than just milk to fuel their rapid growth.

But when you actually start depends on your baby’s stage of development. Look for signs that he’s ready, says Sarah Sinaram, dietetics manager at Mount Alvernia Hospital.

Does he reach out for food around him or look longingly at you while you munch a snack? Does he open his mouth willingly when you put a spoon near it? Has he become hungry way before his usual feeding time?

An important caveat from Annabel Karmel, popular author and child food nutritionist: Don’t wean before 17 weeks, because his digestive system is not mature enough to handle solids.

Research also suggests that the early introduction of food may increase the risk of food intolerances and allergies.

So, if you’re concerned, check with your paediatrician first, says Sarah.

Fruit or veggies: Which is a better first food?

There’s no clear proof that babies weaned on sweeter food will reject blander ingredients, says Sarah.

But babies have a naturally sweet tooth, so they are more likely to take to sweeter foods first, says Annabel.

“I like to start by offering sweet root vegetables, but I also give fruit like apple, pear, peach and banana.

“It’s fine to alternate between vegetables and fruit. When introducing vegetables, such as spinach or broccoli, I like to mix them with root vegetables like sweet potato and maybe even some fruit like apple.”

Similarly, to get him used to brown rice, mix it with some mashed potato, says Sarah.

Microwaving or steaming: Which is a better way to cook?

Steam your ingredients as far as possible. Pauline Xie, senior dietitian with the Clinical Services Division at the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics, suggests better ways to do this:

  • Cut foods in large chunks, so fewer vitamins are lost.
  • Avoid keeping cut raw food for a prolonged period before cooking.
  • Use a steamer and retain the juices for cooking.

The microwave is certainly handy and fast, and it hasn’t been proven to be unsafe, she adds.

But the problem is that it doesn’t heat up food evenly. If you have to use it, never heat food in a jar; transfer it to a microwave-proof dish instead. Stir the food well and test the temperature of it before giving it to your little one.

Baby rejected his lunch. Should I let him go hungry?

It’s perfectly normal for babies to reject a new ingredient up to 15 times before they accept it, notes Pauline. 

Of course, that doesn’t lessen your frustration, but the trick is not to get worked up by it and overreact, which will only teach him that acting up gets your attention, she says.

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Besides, she adds, first foods are meant for him to try and to test whether he has an allergic reaction, not to fill his tummy. Remember, at six months old, breast milk should still be his main source of nutrition.

So if he doesn’t like it, take the plate away and let him play. Heap praises on him when he does try something new, even if it’s a sliver of food, and try not to let him have another bite before the next meal, Annabel suggests.

“A hungry child is a less fussy child, and by knowing that you are not going to react to their refusal, they may be less likely to try to play that card in the future,” she says.

Is it safe to spice up Baby’s food with herbs?

“I think it is great to add herbs and spices to your baby’s diet,” says Annabel. “Fresh herbs like basil or dill are great for adding flavour without salt after you have introduced first tastes. Garlic is good, too.

“And you can add spices like cinnamon or vanilla to fruit. I would start adding mild hot spices such as garam masala or pepper a little later, from around nine months.”

But do remember that you shouldn’t add salt and condiments (such as ketchup) to his diet before the age of one, or give him very spicy food that may cause a tummy upset, warn Sarah and Pauline.

Is a mashed or a chunky texture better for Baby?

“Finger foods are important for developing hand-eye coordination, and purees are great for getting important macro and micro nutrients, such as protein and iron from pulses and red meat,” says Annabel.

While baby-led weaning is a popular trend , Sarah cautions that it’s important to closely monitor and assess your child’s swallowing and chewing abilities before you consider this approach, where babies are given chunky pieces of table food to chew on.

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Should I feed Baby only organic food?

Organic food is not critical to normal growth and development; what’s important is that the food is fresh and his diet is balanced, says Sarah.

But while it’s not better nutritionally, choosing organic food can reduce the amount of pesticides Baby consumes, Pauline concedes. The bottom line: it’s a personal decision, and one that depends a lot on your budget, says Annabel.

If you’re keen on going green, she recommends checking out EWG Shopper’s Guide, which lists the Dirty Dozen (produce with the highest levels of pesticides) and the Clean Fifteen (those that may be worth spending more on, if organic).

This article was first published in Young Parents.