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I hear you're interested in learning more about baby-led solids. That's great! In my last blog post, we talked about what baby-led solids are, and how to know when it's time to start. If you haven't read it yet, you can follow this link to catch up on the conversation. At the end of my last post, I promised to disclose the best foods to start off with. Read on to hear my two cents.
With baby-led solids, we get to skip all the cereals and jarred baby food purees. The cereals are likened to a bag of potato chips; mostly filler and empty calories. The only helpful thing in most infant cereals is the iron that it's fortified with. The problem is that there is a ton in it and it's SO difficult for baby to absorb; its bioavailability is very poor. So, you end up with a constipated baby. If you're worried about iron levels in your baby, and you're still exclusively breastfeeding, have your baby's iron levels tested. Now, breastmilk contains iron. It's not as much iron as what is found in anything that is fortified with iron, and it's about the same amount as what is found in cow (bovine) milk. The iron that IS available in mother's milk is extremely bioavailable. The rate of absorption is way higher in human milk than in iron-fortified foods.
Here is a little chart that I drew into my notes during some of my lactation training.
As you can see, the iron absorption rate in human milk is 48 percent! This high rate of absorption is due, in part, to the fact that breast milk contains high levels of lactose and vitamin C, which are iron absorption facilitators. If you take your baby to the doctor for an iron test, and baby's iron levels are low, the doctor may suggest an iron supplement. If baby has started solids, there are lots of foods you can offer that contain iron, and the breast milk that he is taking will help with the iron levels. That's my tangent on iron.
ANYWAY! Back to the solids. So, the first few times that we offer solids to baby are very exciting! I think it's so much fun to introduce foods and see which ones he likes and which ones he doesn't, but we have to make sure that we are offering healthy foods in a safe way. Preparing to start solids is also a great time to get CPR/First Aid certified. Now that baby is going to be putting food items in his mouth, safety is always key, and you want to be able to know what to do in case of an emergency. It's also very important to know the difference between choking and gagging.
Here is a helpful infographic I made to help you decipher between gagging and choking.
Now that we have a good idea of what to watch for, we can start preparing some food options. You'll want to cut the foods into long strips, similar to french fries, so that they are easy to pick up and hold, to start.
Steamed vegetables and soft fruits are really good to start with. You want them to be stiff enough to hold, but soft enough to mash. Steamed carrot sticks and sweet potatoes are great healthy choices, along with bananas and avocado slices.
I reached out to a nutritionist that I know, Steven Coronado, MS, who just launched an amazing functional medicine business, for some input on first foods. He gave me the steamed carrot and sweet potato suggestions, adding that, "Foods high in beta-carotene such as sweet potatoes, carrots, beans, in general, peas, and lentils are all great sources of iron, zinc, folate, fiber, and protein." These vegetables are easily steamed. So, if you incorporate these food choices into the family meal, leaving most seasonings out, and simply season them on your plate, offering baby foods from your plate is crazy convenient. Steven goes on to say, "It's a good time to get used to textures and tastes... We want toddlers to learn and enjoy the tastes of the "rainbow"... to enhance the natural flavors of the veggies... add salt directly to food, not during cooking." I think you'll find that baby-led solids may be one of the easiest ways to introduce new foods.
Other great food choices to start with, as I mentioned, are bananas and avocado, as well as super soft green beans, and soft melons, like watermelon and ripe cantaloupe. Remember to cut them into strips for easy handling.
When you start with baby-led solids, you want to start with the vegetables, and add the fruits in later. Fruits tend to be sweet and full of natural sugars. Starting with the less sweet vegetables make it more likely that baby will develop a taste for those good veggies and not a preference for sweets. Around 10 months or so, you can start adding meats into the diet if you so choose. You want to make sure the pieces are small and really tender to avoid choking. Chicken is nice and soft, most of the time, and it's pretty bland and easy to digest, making it a great meat to start with.
Dairy can be introduced around 12 months of age, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, starting with yogurts and things without whey, which is the watery part of cow milk. The whey is a pretty common allergen, and the introduction of any common allergen should be careful and monitored closely for adverse reactions. Common food allergens include, but are not limited to, eggs, soy, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, strawberries, and cinnamon. Allergic reactions to these foods may not occur immediately. Reactions may take a day or so to show up. In light of that, it is a good idea to stick with one new food for a number of days before introducing another new food. However, our nutritionist, Steven, recommends avoiding any dairy, altogether, because of the effects that consuming dairy products can cause, such as eczema, acne, excessive mucus, an inflamed and leaky gut, etc. He does understand that dairy products are a big part of the American diet. So, because of that, he recommends waiting until two years of age to introduce any dairy products, "that way, you can know if anything health related, up to 24 months, is not dairy-related. Introduce dairy, then see if it causes adverse reactions."
As I stated in my previous blog post about Baby-Led Solids, it is SOOOOOO important to make sure to offer breast milk before any solids. If you offer solids, then start to notice some constipation in baby, consider holding off on any more solids for another couple of weeks, and make sure that nursing is happening more often. A lot of times, I'll have a mom concerned about some possible constipation in her seven-month-old, and their problem was that baby was getting too many solids and not enough milk. He was either having breast to "wash down" the solids or simply too busy to get a good nursing session in before lunch or dinner. Sometimes, their little gut just isn't ready for anything other than momma's milk yet.
Baby-led solids is my favorite way to introduce solid foods to my kids! It is easy and fun and has benefits that spoon-feeding doesn't have. If you chose to go this route, please make sure to do so safely. If you like what you see here, please consider leaving me a tip so that I can continue to put out content that you love! Thanks for reading!