The honest guide to introducing solids
Your little joey is approaching six months of age – what an exciting milestone! You’ve made it! You’ve kept a tiny human alive for half a year, with all of the milk chucks, poop explosions, late night feeds and sleep deprivation that brings – definitely worth a pat on the back! But now it’s time to start solids, you’ve mastered so much new territory already and you need to scale another learning curve. What do I feed bub? What foods should we avoid? Purees or baby-led weaning?
Well, you can take a deep breath, relax and repeat because starting solids should not be a source of anxiety. Ever heard the saying ‘food before one is just for fun’? Breastmilk or formula is your baby’s main source of nutrients before toddlerhood, so think of their intro to solid foods as learning through play. It’s not a race to three square meals a day - the main purpose is exploration – allowing your babe to sample a wide array of colours, shapes, flavours and textures, at their own pace.
When should I start solids?
The World Health Organisation prescribes that babies be exclusively breastfed for six months, before complementary foods are introduced. When mums tell me that their child’s GP has recommended solid foods before the age of six months, I worry. Some research shows that beginning solids too early can result in food allergies and eczema. 
The reason some doctors recommend early solid foods is due to infant reflux, but if a baby is having trouble digesting breastmilk or formula, how are denser, more complex solid foods going to help? In my experience, bubs with reflux generally have poor gut health, food sensitivities, or both, and adding solids to the mix can compound the problem. If baby is breastfed, they may be reacting to allergenic foods, like wheat and dairy, or acidic foods in your diet. It may be helpful to try an elimination diet, removing one common allergen from your diet at a time for 2-4 weeks, to see if you notice an improvement in your baby’s condition.
If baby is formula fed, there may be an issue with cow’s milk protein or soy, present in most commercial formulas. Experiment with goat milk formula or speak to your doctor about hydrolysed or elemental formula, if you suspect an intolerance.
If bub is extremely chucky or uncomfortable, it’s wise to focus on improving their gut health, with a good quality probiotic and, of course, visit a paediatrician to rule out any medical reasons for their discomfort. You may wish to see a reputable naturopath, to support your baby’s tummy with gentle remedies, before resorting to synthetic reflux medications, which can cause dependence.
What are the best first foods for bub?
Short cooked meat stock and non-starchy vegetables, like carrot, pumpkin, swede and zucchini, are the best first foods for baby – these are nutrient-rich and easy to digest. You can make your own stock at home, by simmering a piece of good-quality meat on the bone, in water, for 2 – 3 hours (do not add salt or herbs). If pureeing foods for baby, meat stock is the perfect ingredient to bring them to an ideal consistency. Avocado, banana, pear and apple are great starter fruits for baby to try. Once you’ve introduced a wide selection of fruit and vegetables, incorporate small amounts of meat, and healthy fats like sugar-free yoghurt, coconut oil, egg yolk, ghee and homemade chia pudding.
How do I know if my baby has a food allergy?
It’s wise to introduce only one new food every few days and watch for signs of allergy. These signs include itching, coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, red eyes, skin rashes, flushed skin, swelling of the lips, tongue and/or face, loss of consciousness, vomiting and/or diarrhoea. If swelling, breathing difficulties or severe vomiting and diarrhea occur, call an ambulance, as severe food allergies can quickly become life-threatening.
Food allergy symptoms can appear in under a minute but may take hours to appear. Less severe allergies may become obvious only after a significant amount of the food has been eaten. I have severe anaphylactic allergies to peanuts and pine nuts, and experience nausea and throat/lip swelling thirty seconds after eating the smallest bite of them, but I have a less severe response to lupin, and need to eat a large amount to notice significant symptoms, like stomach pain and itching.
If your babe has a family history of food allergies, it’s wise to delay the introduction of allergenic foods until he or she is older, as allergies can be inherited. Introducing allergenic foods later in life does not decrease the chance of food allergy, but it’s not silly to wait until your child’s airways have expanded with age and they are more able to communicate that something isn’t right.
Any food can cause allergy, but the eight most common culprits are cow’s milk; egg (specifically egg white); tree nuts – brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, pistachio, pine nuts, macadamias and walnuts; peanuts; shellfish – prawns, lobster, crab, crayfish, squid and scallops; wheat and fish.
Are there certain foods to avoid early on?
Wheat and other grains, seeds, legumes and nuts are best introduced a little later, not only due to allergy risk, but because they contain phytic acid, which can be difficult to digest. Phytic acid is present in all plants, in varying amounts, and is known as an anti-nutrient, because it binds to essential minerals, iron, calcium and zinc.
Activating grains, nuts and seeds, through a process of soaking, and then slow drying, removes the phytic acid content, results in more nutritious and easily digested versions of these foods. You can activate foods yourself – all you need is an oven or dehydrator – and there is a growing selection of activated products now available at the supermarket.
Babies do not need any added sugar or salt in their foods – they’ll receive all that they need from a wholefoods diet. Definitely avoid sweet treats, like ice cream and chocolate, as sugar is highly-addictive and gives your tot a predilection for sweet foods. The last thing you want is your baby turning down veggies for fruits and honey toast at every meal.
Baby-led weaning or purees?
More and more mums are choosing baby-led weaning for their tots. It’s unbelievably easy to do – simply give bub small pieces of your healthy meals to try and they can eat at the table with you. Baby-led weaning encourages your little one to have a healthy relationship with food, as they have control over what they eat and how much of it. It’s also easier for mum and dad because you don’t have to sit there with spoon in hand and rehash ‘here comes the aeroplane!’ fifty times a meal. I found it useful to offer whole pieces of foods, as well as purees, to give my littles a wide variety of foods. Wet foods like yoghurt, egg yolk and soup I would spoon feed, early on, to minimise the mess factor. When spoon-feeding, it’s important not to force your child to eat when it’s clear that they have had enough.
Do I need to buy organic food?
Let’s be real: organic food is expensive. If it’s within your means to buy organic, it’s a worthwhile investment. Babies are more sensitive to toxins in their food and environment because their organs are still developing. If your budget doesn’t allow a full organic shop, choosing foods for baby which are cleaner, or able to be peeled, will reduce chemical exposure.
The Environmental Working Groups releases a Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen list, each year; this is an excellent guide as to which conventionally grown produce is safe to eat, and which should be avoided at all costs. Generally, any produce that is eaten whole, like berries, tomatoes, spinach and apple, has a high chemical content. If you can’t buy these organic, choose produce with skin that can be peeled and soaked in a water and apple cider vinegar solution.
Keep in mind that the cocktail of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides used on conventional produce aren’t just on the skin, but in the skin, and even inside the flesh. Buying fruit and veggies in season can greatly reduce the cost of organics. Organic strawberries are roughly $3 a punnet at the peak of summer, but double that when they first appear at the shops in springtime. Be smart about what you buy and when, and you’ll be surprised at the bargains you can pick up.
Last words …
Introducing solids needn’t be a source of anxiety. Just have fun with it and let your baby get messy, experimenting with different flavours and textures, and having a go at spoon-feeding themselves. Wipe clean bibs and a washable floor mat will be your salvation – Close Parent are my absolute fave for easy mealtimes. Be sure to drop us a line below and let us know how your bub goes with solids.
Wendy and the OJ crew xx
 GINIplus and LISAplus Study Groups, Early diet and the risk of allergy: what can we learn from the prospective birth cohort studies GINIplus and LISAplus?, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 94, no. 6, December 2011, Pages 2012 - 2017, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.110.001180