The weaning process begins with the first bite of solid food, long before babies stop nursing. In fact, milk will continue to make up most of your infant’s diet for the entire first year. Most babies are ready for a no-pressure introduction to solid foods around the middle of the first year and not before. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically urges parents to wait until their babies are at least 6 months old before beginning this new stage of life. This brief delay allows your baby to continue to receive the full nutritional benefits of milk while allowing the digestive system to mature. But age alone is not the only factor to consider when gauging whether your infant is ready.
So how do you know if your baby is ready for solids? The first sign could be when your baby begins watching intently as you eat and reaching for the food on your plate. Another sign is that your baby has excellent head control and can sit up very well with little to no support. The tongue-thrust or “gag” reflex, where your baby pushes food automatically out of the mouth, is gone, and your baby is eager to bring food into the mouth to be chewed and swallowed. No one can pinpoint exactly when your baby is ready except...your baby!
One possible introduction to solid foods could be a bit of sensory play. While your baby is seated at a table or in a high chair, offer a small amount of a soft, mashed fruit or vegetable such as avocado or sweet potato directly in front of your little one’s eyes. Those exploring fingers will likely bring some of the food up to the mouth for tasting. Another possible introduction is to offer your baby a bit of pureed food on a tiny spoon. You can do this easily while your baby is sitting in your lap. Hold it right in front of your baby at chest-level and allow your baby to grasp the spoon and guide it into the mouth. With either technique, you are helping your baby to learn the art of self-feeding right from the start. Eating should always be an intentional process.
Things to keep in mind:
1. Don't rush it. There's just no need to! Your baby is still getting plenty of nutrition from breastmilk through the end of the first year. Let food be a playful and fun new experience, not a source of worry.
2. Offer, don't force. Let your baby take the lead when it comes to food. Some even wait until their babies themselves find something yummy on the adult plate and nab it!
3. Keep it wholesome. Whatever you choose to offer for a first food experience, your best bet is to make that first introduction a whole, unprocessed type of food without added sweeteners or artificial flavors.