If you take a moment to step back and observe, you will realise that already, your little baby is not so little anymore! The tiny infant wrapped in a blanket you held for the first time is fast growing into an energetic child! It’s almost time to introduce your baby to the wonderful world of food! 

The need for complementary feeding

Babies are constantly growing and learning, acquiring new physical or behavioural skills as they reach relevant infant development milestones. Since birth, mother’s milk provides all the nutrition that is needed. But around 6 months, this gradually needs to be supplemented with other food to aid the growth spurt during that time. Though mother’s milk still remains the primary source of nutrition, different foods should gradually be introduced in the baby’s diet.

Apart from nutrition, introducing different foods has other benefits too. Children get exposed to flavours and textures, making learning to eat an interesting experience. Other infant developmental skills that babies learn while eating include jaw development essential for proper language skills, fine motor skills through holding a spoon or finger food, and hand-eye coordination while following food from plate to mouth. 

Also read:Is a pacifier good for your baby? Ask the Expert- Dr. Pritika Rai

When to introduce solid food?

Till 6 months, mother’s milk or infant formula milk is the best food for the baby. World over, experts recommend waiting till 6 months of age to start simple solid foods as before that the digestive system is not developed enough. You may notice certain behaviours like those listed below that may indicate your infant is ready to experiment with food other than milk.

  • The baby is able to sit upright without support and has good head control. Infants may now need to move food around in their mouth and swallow it, as opposed to just sucking milk.
  • The baby no longer has the tongue thrust reflex, which instinctively pushes anything out of the mouth using the tongue.
  • There is more interest around food, watching closely what everyone is eating and trying to grab at food that you may be eating.
  • Your baby begins to open their mouth and leans forward when offered some food.

Tips for introducing new foods

For a baby used to a diet of milk alone, the world of flavours can be both interesting and confusing. While some babies may take to solid food without much of a fuss, the going may not be as smooth for others. Different foods and textures too may evoke different reactions.While apple or banana puree may be someone’s favourite, another baby may eat peacefully only if there is rice cereal in the bowl. Children may also take more time to transition from smooth purees to a chunkier texture and gradually finger food. Though their dependence on milk will gradually decrease as the primary food, initially many babies are not able to eat enough quantity of solid food to satiate their hunger and may be satisfied only with the familiar taste of milk and just a few spoons of other food. As a parent, you will surely need a generous helping of patience to help your child navigate through the world of first foods. Here are a few parent tested tips that may work for you and your baby.

  • Choose the right time of day to introduce a new food to your little one when they are alert, well rested and not cranky.
  • Feed babies in an upright position, as this makes it easier for the food to go down the food pipe, and reduces the risk of choking.
  • Begin with small portions, just a teaspoon or two at a time. Remember, the baby’s stomach can only hold a small quantity of food at a time. As your baby grows, gradually increase the serving size to half a bowl and more.
  • Introduce only one new food at a time. This gives your baby time to understand a certain flavour, and too many new foods at the same time confuse the child’s palette and may make them averse to trying out something new.
  • Give a gap of 3 to 5 days before introducing a new food. Continue with small servings of the same food once a day before you try something new. Once different foods have been tried, you could prepare a meal plan that includes more than one type offood to be served in small quantities during the day.
  • Keep a track of how the baby reacts to each food, to identify any food allergies. Common foods that may trigger allergy are eggs, nuts, fish, soybean, wheat, etc. A gap between new foods also gives you time to identify what worked and what didn’t.
  • Make sure to prepare the food in a clean and hygienic way. Use boiled water, a clean blender and if using plastic, BPA free food grade bowls and spoons. Your baby may try to grab at the spoon during mealtimes, and this is part of motor skill development. For this, choose cutlery that is devoid of sharp edges.
  • Be patient. Often, infants need to try out a certain food almost 10 to 15 times over the course of a few months before they develop a liking for it. Till then, be prepared for food spitted out, unfinished bowls and lots of bibs and wipes to clean up. Just think of the joy you will feel seeing your now-messy eater become friends with food as the days go by!

What foods should you begin with?

Here are a few ideas of what you can begin feeding your baby. 

  • 1-2 tablespoons of rice cereal or iron- fortified infant cereal prepared with milk or water
  • Easy to swallow cooked fruit and vegetable purees like apple or potatoes
  • Combinations like carrot and peas, or fruits apple and pears cooked together for variety
  • Soup prepared by cooking chicken with carrots, or a clear soup of well-cooked lentils
  • Cooked lentils or dal with vegetables, adding some seasonings as the baby grows
  • By 7-8 months, vary the texture of food preparing a chunky mash instead of a puree
  • Yoghurt added to fruit and vegetable purees
  • During teething, soft pieces of fruit or cooked carrot as finger food
  • Soft food like banana or cheese cut into small pieces that is easy to chew
  • Juices should be avoided till 12 months as this risks tooth cavity once teething begins