How to Introduce Foods to Your Baby

From birth to age one your baby's eating habits will grow and change, learn how to safety introduce solids.

Illustration by Anna Shipside

At five-and-a-half months, Madeline started reaching for food from her parents’ hands and plates, recalls her mom, Cynthia Siggens of Toronto. “We were travelling in Paris at the time and Madeline was constantly grabbing for baguette.” Still, they waited a few more weeks to actively introduce foods. “We were very excited to start feeding her, and thought that she was showing signs of readiness, but we understood that waiting was best for her.”

When to Start Solid Food

The ideal time to start solids for most kids is six months of age, says Michael Dickinson, MD, spokesperson for the Canadian Paediatric Society and chief of staff and chief of pediatrics at Miramichi Regional Hospital in Miramichi, N.B. “But that’s not chiseled in stone,” he notes. Your child’s abilities and behaviours also play a role. According to the CPS, signs of readiness include:

  • Seeming hungry earlier than usual
  • Ability to sit up without support
  • Good control of neck muscles
  • Holding food in her mouth (not pushing it out immediately)
  • An interest in food
  • Opening her mouth when she sees food coming her way.

Keeping Baby’s Iron Levels in Check

Around six months of age, breast milk and formula no longer provide enough iron for a growing babe. While iron-fortified cereals such as rice and oats are still a mainstay first food, there are options. “In recent times, we’ve been more open-minded about using other sources of iron early on as well, including some meat and legumes and egg yolks,” says Dr. Dickinson.

Lianne Phillipson-Webb, a Toronto-based registered nutritionist and founder of Sprout Right, a company specializing in 
prenatal, postnatal and family nutrition, recommends starting with puréed fruits and vegetables, such as iron-rich dried fruits. “They’re tasty, easy to digest, and you can soon add in iron-rich foods like meat and egg yolk.”

Listen to Your Baby

First foods should be completely puréed: “very smooth, no chunks, easily digested,” says Dr. Dickinson. A teaspoon or two 
is plenty to start, and parents can gradually build from there.

At feeding time, read your baby’s cues. “There are some babies that just seem to have a really sensitive gag reflex, and those are babies that you need to go slower with,” says– Dr. Dickinson. Babies know when they’ve had enough. If your baby turns her head away and closes her mouth, it usually means she’s not 
hungry; resist the urge to trick or coax her into eating.

Introduce foods one at a time, waiting three days before offering another food to make sure she has had no reaction. “If you can do three feeds in a row and nothing happens, that’s pretty convincing that that’s a food that’s going to be well tolerated,” says Dr. Dickinson. Phillipson-Webb recommends a bit longer if a baby has experienced gassiness, constipation or rashes, or if a change in formula or a breastfeeding mother’s diet has ever been required. “If your baby’s been more sensitive, offer new food once every five days, so you have a really clear picture.”

Keep a Lookout for Allergies

Dr. Dickinson says there’s no need to be overly concerned about any particular foods unless there’s a family history of severe food allergies. “If a sibling has a peanut allergy, for example, or egg allergy, then in those specific situations, we might be a little bit more cautious in introducing those foods, or do it in a supervised fashion.” Phillipson-Webb notes that studies have suggested that babies who have eczema may be more likely to have allergies to nuts, fish, eggs and dairy. “Don’t ever hesitate to stop a food if you think that there’s an issue,” she adds.

What’s Next for Your Baby

Between nine and 12 months, babies can handle a bit more texture in foods, according to the CPS, including:

  • Soft, fresh fruits that are peeled, seeded and diced
  • Finely minced or diced meats
  • Soft, mashed cooked veggies
  • Rice, pasta, whole grain bread and plain cereals
  • Yogurt (3.25% or higher), cottage cheese and grated hard cheese

Now 10 months old, Madeline is a champion eater who chows down on everything from meat and fish to fruits and veggies, says Siggens. “Yesterday she was loving Brussels sprouts and baby bok choy!”

As a baby, CF managing editor Cara Smusiak loved puréed apricots—and she craves apricot anything to this day.

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