Breast milk or formula fulfills all your baby's nutritional requirements until they are 6 months old. It is common for growth spurts to occur at 3 and 6 weeks as well as 3 and 6 months, during which it is normal for your baby to want to feed more often from the breast or bottle. After 6 months of age, you will need to introduce additional foods to meet your baby’s growing nutritional needs. It is important for breast milk or formula to be the largest portion of a baby’s diet up to 1 year of age.
Babies have small stomachs and eat little bits at a time. They are growing and developing faster in their first year than at any other time in their lives. It is very important to provide only nutritious, healthy foods for your child in this first year and to avoid unhealthy foods.
When is your baby ready?
Timing is everything: starting solids too early may mean that your baby won't get the nutrients that they need from breast milk or formula. Your baby is also at risk of choking if they are not ready. A baby’s nutritional needs begin to change at 6 months of age so starting solids too late may also mean that your baby does not get all the nutrients that they require. It may also lead to slow acceptance of solids and or difficulty chewing and swallowing.
Some signs that your baby is ready for solid foods are:
- Shows interest in food by watching others eat, makes mouthing movements
- Appears to be hungry even after feeding
- Doesn’t push the spoon out of its mouth with tongue
- Holds head up on its own
- Sits upright easily with minimal support
- Pulls in lower lip and closes lips over food
What foods do you start with?
Begin by introducing iron-rich foods at six months, including meat and meat alternatives, in addition to iron-fortified infant cereal. Examples of meats and meat alternatives include pureed beef, poultry, and fish, tofu, well-cooked legumes and cooked egg yolk. Limit processed meats and fish as they are high in salt, nitrates and mercury. You can mix cereal or purees with breast milk, formula or water. Never add baby cereal to a bottle as it could cause your baby to choke.
Healthy babies have enough iron stores to last for the first 6 months; iron intake is important for babies at this age as it helps develop mental and motor function, as well as blood production so always choose iron fortified foods, cereal or formula. Only infants that are anemic or premature require oral iron supplementation in the first year.
As your baby becomes a more confident eater, you can make the cereal or purees thicker by adding less liquid. Be sure to introduce your baby to lumpy textures quickly. Delaying this introduction beyond 9 months has been associated with feeding difficulties in older children and a lower intake of nutritious foods such as vegetables and fruit.
After meats and alternatives you can move on to fruits and vegetables which will give your baby added vitamins, minerals and fiber. It's recommended that you start with vegetables prior to starting fruit, so they don't develop a preference for fruit which tends to be sweeter.
As you introduce new foods, be sure that you are also introducing your baby to a variety of soft textures including lumpy, tender cooked and finely minced, puree, mashed, and ground. You may also introduce finger foods from 6 months of age. Safe finger foods include pieces of soft-cooked vegetables and fruit, soft ripe fruit such as banana, finely minced, ground or mashed cooked meat, deboned fish and poultry, grated cheese and bread crusts or toasts.
Helpful hints for feeding
- You are in charge of offering the appropriate food choices to your baby, but your baby is in charge of where, when and how much they eat.
- Make eating fun. Don't turn it into a battle.
- Go at your baby's pace.
- Don't feed your baby directly from the jar. This can contaminate the remaining food with your baby's saliva and germs that are left on the spoon.
Vitamin D helps absorb calcium, making strong bones and teeth. A lack of Vitamin D can lead to a diesease called Rickets, which results in the malformation of bones. The Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada and Health Canada all recommend that breastfed infants get 400 I.U. of Vitamin D daily. For babies living in northern Canada, above 60 degrees latitude, 800 I.U. of Vitamin D is recommended daily. Keep supplementing your breastfed baby until their diet can provide them with more adequate sources (milk and milk products such as yogurt). Natural sunlight is also a good source of Vitamin D.
The best way to avoid choking is to avoid at risk foods. Always give food to your baby when they are sitting down. No eating on the move or lying down. Always stay with your child when they are eating in case they do choke.
Tips for Minimizing Risk
- Grate raw carrots and hard fruits such as apples
- Remove the pits from fruits
- Chop grapes
- Thinly spread peanut butter on crackers or toast
- Finely chop foods with fibrous or stringy textures such as celery or pineapple
High Risk Foods to Avoid
- Nuts, seeds
- Whole grapes or small round foods
- Whole rounds of wieners or sausages
- Raw vegetables
- Small candies or gum
- Raisins and other small dried fruit
- Crunchy peanut butter, peanut butter served on a spoon or too thickly spread on food
It is not possible to prevent all choking incidents, you can however minimize risk and be prepared. It is recommended that all parents and caregivers get training in choking first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Your local public health unit is a an excellent resource that can provide further information on infant feeding and connect you with a local first aid and CPR course.
Unless directed by your doctor, it is not recommended that you delay introducing foods for fear of an allergy. All common allergens such as peanut, fish, wheat, egg, milk and soy can be introduced from 6 months of age. When introducing common allergens start with single foods to make it easier to identify if your baby has allergies. Give the new food and wait two days before you try another. Signs of an allergy can occur quickly or up to hours after the food is eaten. Once a potential food allergen is introduced, it is important to continue to offer the food regularly to maintain the child's tolerance.
The most common signs of allergy are:
- Breathing difficulties
Stop feeding the food if you think that it may have caused any of these reactions and consult your doctor.
A joint statement of Health Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada. Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants 0-6 months
A joint statement of Health Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada. Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants 6-24 months
Ontario Dietitians in Public Health. Pediatric Nutrition Guidelines (Birth to Six Years) for Health Professionals.