Complimentary Feeding 101 – Everything You Need to Know About Feeding Your Baby

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Weaning is an exciting process for both baby and mam or dad. Since the beginning of your baby’s life, he or she has only had breast milk or formula. Starting solids opens up an entire array of new textures, smells, and flavors that your baby will discover for the first time.

However, for new parents, it could be an overwhelming process. There are so many questions and fears surrounding the introduction of solids. You might ask yourself, “is my baby ready for this?”, “what if he hates it?”, “am I choosing the right food?”, “am I doing it right?”

I personally had a lot of anxiety when my first child hit the 6th month and I was about to introduce solids for the first time. I knew nutrition was very important to secure my child’s health, and that the feeding habits I instill early on will have an impact on how he eats until he grows up. I felt a lot of pressure, and dug deep into several resources to ensure that I was doing it right.

My firstborn is now in preschool and is a good eater. He eats his fair share of grains, fruits, meat, vegetables, and a couple of sweet and salty treats here and there. I can’t say that he likes everything I put on the table, but he gives new things a try before deciding if he likes it.

What I can say about successful feeding is that it pays to do a lot of learning. Seek out expert advise, and find out what is healthy and normal for your child’s age when it comes to feeding.

What is complementary feeding?

The World Health Organization defines complementary feeding as offering foods and liquids other than milk to an infant. It further stipulates that this period occurs when the nutritional value of milk can no longer meet the nutritional needs of your growing baby.

It does not necessarily mean that your child no longer needs milk at this stage. It simply means that milk is no longer enough and you have to top it up or “complement” with other nutrient sources found in other food and drinks.

This period of complementary feeding lasts between 6 months to 2 years of age for a child. It is a gradual transition of the baby from the breast or bottle to eating the food that the rest of the family eats. It is therefore also encouraged that the family has healthy meals as this is what the child is transitioning into.

Readiness for solids

One of the things you need to mark down when starting solids is your child’s readiness. Similar to potty training or other milestones, feeding also has its proper time within a child’s development. Identifying readiness is one of the preliminary steps to the weaning process.

It is important for you to identify readiness with your child when it comes to introducing solids. Introducing solids without readiness may have health implications which we will find out later on. To learn if your baby is ready for solid food, watch out for the following signals.

Solid food readiness “go” signals

If you are looking for SURE and ABSOLUTE signals that your baby is ready for solids, here they are:

  • Your baby is about six months old. Some medical professionals and sources may say that the readiness age for solids may begin as early as four months. However, WHO recommendations (which have a full team of international experts and resources from all over the world) suggest that your baby should be six months of age before you start solids. The American Academy of Pediatrics also has a similar stand. This is because it is at the age of 6 months that your baby has a mature enough digestive tract that can efficiently handle food and drink other than milk.
  • Your baby no longer thrusts out her tongue reflexively. Babies have the natural tendency to stick their tongues out when something touches the tip of it. Once they have grown out of this reflex, they can easily push the food back into the throat to eat it instead of spitting it up.
  • Baby can sit up straight without any support and hold his head upright when placed in a sitting position. It is difficult and dangerous to feed solids to a baby that lacks neck support. The muscles of the neck need to be strong enough to stay straight to provide safe and open passage for food to get through.

Solid food readiness “no” signals

Sometimes, babies may send mixed signals regarding their readiness for solids. These signals can be considered, but must NOT be your basis to decide that your baby is ready for solids:

  • Your baby has doubled in birth weight or has reached 14 pounds. Some babies may grow slower or faster than others. Some babies are born big-boned and heavy, and some may be rather petite thanks to genetics. Therefore, this as a basis is not really reliable.
  • Baby is eyeing your food or wants to grab it and put it into his mouth. At around four months of age, babies have mentally developed so much that they suddenly become more aware of their surroundings and develop a curiosity towards other people’s activities. Your four-month-old swiping at your snack does not necessarily mean that he is ready for solids. It simply means that he was curious about what you were doing with that thing that you were putting in your mouth.
  • Your baby can sit supported with a Bumbo. It is imperative that your baby’s muscles are developed enough to sit without support. Sitting up unsupported ensures you that all of the baby’s muscles are strong enough to chew, swallow, gag or cough if needed, and process the food entirely and safely.

Perfect timing: risks of introducing solid too early or too late

But what if I want to feed my baby early on? What if my baby seems just too excited and I would like to oblige him? You might ask. There are several risks associated with feeding a baby too early.

  • Choking or aspiration (when food gets sucked into the airway). The former is an acute medical emergency that is life-threatening. The latter may result in serious conditions such as Pneumonia.
  • Malnutrition. Nothing ever beats the nutrient density of breast milk, and infant formula was made to somewhat replicate that. When you introduce solids too soon, you might be filling your baby up with extra calories that make him full but don’t give as much nutritional value as breast milk or formula.
  • The risk of obesity. This pendulum swings both ways as studies show that it also poses a risk for obesity if you overfeed your child. Young babies sometimes find it hard to let you know that they’ve had enough, much less comment on how calorie-rich the food you’re giving them is.

Don’t hold off for too long with introducing solids though. Some parents may actually try to hold off from introducing solids for as long as they can. This may be out of fear due to a lack of information. Some parents just don’t know where to start, are afraid of hurting their child’s health by introducing something new.

However, withholding solids for too long (longer than seven or eight months) also has health implications.

  • Under-nutrition. As previously stated, there comes a time when milk alone is no longer enough to sustain a child’s caloric needs. At six months of age, your baby is more active, more curious, and sleeps less than she did when she was an infant. This means that she needs more calories to burn. While milk may still contain all of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to keep your baby healthy, it might no longer have enough calories to sustain her growth and activity levels altogether.
  • Food aversion. Babies who do not get the chance to explore food when they were at the peak of their curiosity may not take to it at all anymore. Your child may reject all food options and become difficult to feed later on.
  • Increased risk of allergies. One study points out that there is a correlation between increased incidences of allergies with children who are introduced to solids late. Another reason why timing the complementary feeding process is essential for your child’s long term health.

What to do if your child resists solid food

Cute baby resisting to eat solid food

So you’ve done your research and secured all of the guidelines from the experts. You’re already geared up with the latest gizmos on baby feeding -bowls, spoons, cups, feeding chair, a fancy bib. However you find that your baby does not seem to like solid food.

You might wonder why your baby is not taking to food despite ticking all the signs for readiness. There are several reasons why this happens:

  • Your baby might be full. Remember that babies have small stomachs and cannot accommodate large amounts at a time. If you gave your baby a bottle within an hour of lunch, chances are, he won’t be interested in it.
  • The baby is not in the mood. Yes, babies are allowed to have off moods too. Babies are usually the fussiest when they are most tired. As a simple resolution, avoid bringing an overtired baby to the table. You want a well-rested, happy, and alert baby.
  • Distractions. It might be the TV, the computer, or loud siblings on the table. But if your baby has a lot of stimulation during meal times, they’re going to find it hard to focus on food. Respect meal times and expect older children to follow with your example. Don’t bring gadgets into the table as it may turn into a bad habit.
  • You are pressuring your baby. Being too anxious, nervous, or pushy with your baby at the table will put her off. Imagine having lunch with someone who is constantly bugging you to eat more. It will instantly cause you to lose your appetite.
  • Your baby is uncomfortable. Check your baby’s clothes and diapers before seating her at the diner table. It’s not at all appetizing to eat when you have a full and dirty diaper on your bum the whole time.
  • The baby is adjusting to the new taste or texture. Sometimes, babies make a funny face when tasting a specific food type for the first time. Some parents mistakenly assume that their baby does not like the food. And although it might be possible for a baby to dislike a certain food type, it does not mean that they will hate it forever. you actually need to offer a certain food for ten to fifteen times before you can throw in the towel and conclude that your child does not like it. This is not a permanent thing though, children can develop their palate and grow out of their dislikes.

What to do with a child that refuses solids

  • Try a different kid of food. Your baby’s refusal to cereal is not an automatic refusal to ALL solid foods. Maybe she’ll like oatmeal or mashed potato, or applesauce. Try experimenting with different foods every now and then to see which ones she likes most.
  • Try letting your baby take the lead. Some children are naturally autonomy-seekers. They might hate the mashed potatoes you spoon into their mouths, but love the steamed potato cubes that they can grasp and eat themselves.
  • Experiment. Sometimes it’s not all about the food. It could be the environment or the time. Try feeding your baby at different times and see when she eats most -fresh after a nap, after play time, before or after bath, etc.
  • Take a break. If you feel like you’re getting frustrated, chances are, your baby is frustrated as well. Your baby can feel your stress by your behavior and subtleties of your body language, and the stress will make it even harder for them to adapt to eating solids. Take a couple of days off and try again when you and your baby have recharged. They might just need a bit of time to get fully ready.

The best first foods to give your baby

Best first foods for babies

When your’re about to start your complementary feeding journey, you might wonder what the best foods are for your baby. Here are a few parent-approved meal ideas you can give to your little one depending on their age.

Meal ideas for 6-9 months

As a beginner in eating solids, your baby has to acclimate to thicker textures. Some parents start with thin purees, work their way up to mash, and shreds until they can offer cubes or cuts. Here are some popular food options for babies of this age:

  • Pureed or mashed fruits such as bananas, avocados, apples, pears, and apricots
  • Boiled or steamed, pureed or mashed tubers such as sweet potato, yam, potatoes
  • Yogurt
  • Boiled or steamed, pureed or mashed vegetables such as peas, lentils, carrots, squash
  • Baby cereal (stage 1or2 in the baby food aisle)
  • Blended oatmeal

Meal ideas for 9-12 months

  • Mashed or cubed fruits
  • Boiled or steamed, mashed or cubed vegetables
  • Scrambled or hard-boiled cut up eggs
  • Pasteurized pieces of cheese
  • Finger foods like dry cereals or crackers
  • Pasta
  • Baby cereal (stage 3 in the baby food aisle)
  • Shredded chicken, cut-up pieces of steak, sauteed or steamed ground meat (you may introduce meat earlier in your complementary feeding process)

Meal ideas for 12 months and up

Your yearling can eat pretty much anything you eat (provided that it’s not caffeine or alcohol) for as long as it is cut up in pieces that are small enough for them to safely swallow. However, here are the foods that you should definitely hold off on until your child is at least one year old:

  • Honey
  • Whole cow’s milk

Safety precautions to observe when feeding solids

  • Blend, puree, strain, or mash the food well when first introducing it to your baby to avoid choking.
  • If you are practicing baby-led weaning, avoid serving foods that may pose a choking hazard such as whole grapes. Instead, present foods in cuts that are finger-sized.
  • Wash your produce thoroughly before processing them.
  • Make sure to cook your vegetables thoroughly, until they are soft enough for little gums to mash.
Cute little baby girl playing with her food

Must-try feeding products on Amazon

To make your complementary feeding journey even more exciting, here are a few unique products you and your baby might want to try.

Little Growers Baby Splat Mat

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A splat mat is a large mat you place under your baby’s high chair or spot at the dinner table. It’s a must-have for carpeted floors that can get stained or damaged with food droppings. It’s also a great buy for wooden floors that can’t handle the harsh or frequent cleaning that constant food mess makes.

ezpz Mini Mat

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It’s a plate with divisions and a place mat built into one. It also features a suction base that secures the place mat onto the table. In short, it’s a security measure against major spills.

Baby Toddler Panda Suction Plate

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This is also a suction plate, but the plate itself is made with natural bamboo so your baby is safe from toxic materials that may come from plastic. Its suction base comes in six different colors, and the plates have other varieties of animals.

OBB Soft Silicone Baby Bib

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Traditional cloth bibs are harder to care for and still result to a big mess if the food falls on your baby’s lap. A soft silicone bib is easy to rinse, and its ladle-like bottom catches all falling food so it doesn’t land on your baby’s clothes.

BornCare Baby Bib/Apron Dress

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If you have an extra messy baby and a catcher-bib is not enough to catch food mess from all angles, you can opt for a bib-apron instead. Like a raincoat, it covers all over. If your child is a messy and adventurous eater, she will have more freedom with an overall cover-all.

angelette Silicone Placemat and Food Catcher

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This silicone place mat has a built-in food catcher on one end. Not only will it prevent slips and minimize spills for your baby, it will also minimize the mess from falling food.

Super Cute Bamboo Cups for Kids

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These bamboo cups come in packs of four and have super cute animal of nature-pattern prints. They are made of food-grade, non-toxic, BPA-free bamboo. These are heat-resistant, unbreakable, and they don’t make a nasty sound when they fall on the floor.

Stainless Steel Kids Spoon and Fork

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When the time comes that your child is ready to use tableware on their own, they can have a great start with this set. It is made of stainless steel so they get a feel of what real cutlery is. It is also made special with a curved shape so that they can use it more easily.

Silicone Sippy Cup Lids

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Babies and toddlers are perfectly capable of drinking from a cup while supervised. However, if they insist to do it on their own, expect a huge mess. If you want to keep using the cups for your baby but also want the convenience of a sippy cup when you need it, this lid allows you to turn any cup into a sippy.

Gyro Bowl

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Let your kids experience independence with their snacks by giving them the ability to carry their bowl around. With normal bowl, this may be a messy problem, but the Gyro bowl solves this. It rotates is all directions so that whichever way your toddler carries it, the contents will not spill.

What if you have a picky eater

Picky eating kids

Negative behavior during mealtime such as fussing, refusing to open the mouth, turning away, or simply rejecting the food can lead parents to believe that their child is a picky eater. Picky eating is defined as the frequent refusal of food or preference for the same food over and over. Therefore, picky eating can usually be ascertained during toddlerhood -about one-year-old and onwards.

Causes of picky eating

By the age of one, rapid developmental changes, on top of growth spurts and increased activity can be overwhelming for children. Coincidentally, this is also around the same time that they start insisting on feeding themselves. With the fast-paced changes going on and their increased abilities, they might want to seek a sense of control and comfort from familiarity. This results to kids wanting the same food over and over again.

How to handle picky eating

  • Manage your own expectations. Keep in mind that your toddler’s stomach is just about the same size as his clenched fist. It is therefore only expected that your toddler will not eat large amounts for every meal.
  • Don’t force your child to eat. It robs you of the opportunity for your child to acknowledge his own fullness and discredits his own feelings. This will only make picky eating worse as proven with this study.
  • Provide the food, but let your toddler decide how much he is going to eat. Only your toddler can feel his own fullness and you need to make sure that he learns the sensations of hunger and fullness.
  • Involve your child in meal preparation.
  • Gently and frequently introduce a new food. You may need to offer it for 10-15 times before your child will eat it -so don’t feel too defeated on the first few tries.
  • Allow your child to “play” with his food -to touch, smell, and examine it. When presented with new unfamiliar food, your child may not trust it right off the bat and so exploring it first can give them some familiarity. Table manners can come in later as they begin school.

How to encourage your child to eat healthy food

  • Set a good example. Eat the kind of food that you would want your toddler to eat such as fruits, vegetables, and balanced meals.
  • Avoid showing disgust when you are trying out new food. Your child will pick up on this behavior and will also be close-minded when trying new food.
  • Offer a range of choices, but make sure that they are all healthy and nutritious. Avoid making something on the spot for your child to eat in case he refuses, but make sure that each meal comes with at least one healthy thing that you know he likes.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this information has given you more confidence in starting (or continuing) with your complimentary feeding journey. This expert-sourced advice are the things that I sifted through and keep in mind over the years of feeding my two kids. I hope it helps you too as much as it helped me.

Have you started solids yet? What was your baby’s first food and how did they react to it? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

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