Starting solids can be a confusing time for both parents and babies. As the entire subject matter deserves a book, this short article will serve as clarification around a popular movement called Baby Led Weaning.
Right around 6 months many babies will lose their tongue thrust reflex, simultaneously begin to have sufficient core strength to sit with their esophagus right over their stomach and finally, their stomach’s lining will begin to acidify. Some physical indications of readiness for solids include: babies sitting on their own confidently, not pushing food with their tongue straight back out, and deftly grabbing at things on your plate can all be signs of physical readiness.
Much of the beginning of solids is truly more about exploration than nutrition. Emotionally some children are more adventurous than others. Food introduces brand new sensations through both taste receptors and the tactile senses both in the mouth and their fingers. Some infants are excited by this new frontier while other babies shy from it. Luckily, until an infant is over 1 year old, the majority of their calories and nutrition will continue to come from breastmilk or formula. Therefore, there is no need to rush. Know this though, an early refusal usually has less to do with the particular food and more to do with overwhelming sensations. I caution folks to introduce sugary fruits later because the sweetness can alter babies perceptions at both a neuronal and synaptic level. Sugar, even fructose, is a powerful drug. Antioxidants are naturally a bit bitter. Just keep that in the back of your mind when choosing first foods. Introducing one food every 4-5 days will help you recognize if any given food doesn’t sit well in your infant’s system.
In the media there is a wonderful debate regarding purees versus table foods as the best way to introduce solids to infants. In my community, Baby Led Weaning has taken hold. With any health movement, I strongly encourage parents to take this type of theory in stride and with a large grain of salt. There is NO one perfect way to introduce solids to infants. Amazingly, folks have been doing pretty well making the transition to solids intuitively since the caveman days without any internet or commercial influence.
Mindfulness is always the most important first step of any transition. Pay attention, play present witness to your individual developing baby. Some infants are good and ready for food way before others. Some have a mouthful of teeth before others. Some infants have no teeth and act like they are entranced with each bite you feed yourself and they beautifully coordinate a chewing motion with just their gums!
Regarding the puree and table food battle, I do agree that most infants have a pretty decent gag reflex to help protect them from choking on their siblings Legos. And, I do agree that gagging is not the same as choking. However, remember that gagging can scare both mom and infant and this can lead to aversions for both parties. Know thyself. If you already know that seeing your kid gag is going to give you anxiety, start with purees or fork pressed foods from your plate. Remember that each of your babies temperaments are different. Some fall and get right back up. Other go down and cry for a good long time. The same analogy applies to your young eaters, wherein some will gag and go right back to getting that baked carrot stick down. Unfortunately, some will not go back and aversions can start forming.
There are specific foods such as grapes, hot dogs, popcorn, raisins, uncooked hard veggies, fruits, and leafy vegetables that require grinding motion (2 sets of molars) or are shaped exactly like the airway of your child and clearly pose risk. These are known hazards to young children. Even grown children should sit down and eat the above foods carefully. I also strongly believe that all parents would benefit from learning how to help a choking child. Also, it is very important to be good at recognizing the difference between gagging and choking.
One very difficult and important final piece is, if your child is gagging, do NOT be tempted to stick you finger in their mouth. Allow them to work what’s back there forward or your gagging situation can become a true choking situation as your finger accidentally pushes what’s in their mouth further back than where they can’t get hold of it.
In summary, remember physical and emotional readiness come into play simultaneously and both parents and infant are players. Purees and table foods can be great places to start. And, finally I see no reason developmentally to not use both. There is no shame in the mush, the pouch nor the convenience of table foods. They will grow up beautifully nourished whichever way you go.
As always, you know your infant best. And, in the same moment, I am here for you as you journey. Reach out with any specific questions.