When your baby is young, feeding them is simple – it’s either breastmilk or formula. But what happens when it comes to introducing solids? Can it make a significant impact on your baby’s health?
The answer is: absolutely. How you introduce foods, the foods you introduce and when you introduce them can have a huge influence on your baby’s health for years and even decades to come. That’s why we sat down with guest expert Kasey Willson to chat about what you want to know when introducing solids to your little one.
Watch the interview below or keep reading to learn the key facts about introducing solids to your baby’s diet.
Kasey Willson is a qualified naturopath with a passion for glowing mummas and thriving bubbas!
With ten years of experience as a Naturopath plus new-found mummahood experience, Kasey has created a community of women seeking support for their hormones, fertility, pregnancy, fourth trimester and baby health.
Naturopaths tend to take a different approach when it comes to introducing solids to a baby’s diet. Our head naturopath Jess spoke with Kasey about how they both view the process of introducing food, and asked Kasey for her top tips for parents.
Why is it important to address gut health when we’re introducing solids to the diet?
Your baby’s health journey starts with pre-conception. It continues throughout pregnancy and into the first 1000 days. Over that time, the integrity of the gut develops, and with it the gut microbes. These make up the foundation for your child’s long-term wellbeing.
A baby’s microbiome can predict how they develop and what health concerns they are likely to face later in life. The immune system, brain development, mental health, cognition and gene expression are all influenced by the state of the gut.
By encouraging the growth and diversity of good gut bugs, you can have a positive impact on the crucial stages of growth and development.
There are several factors that influence the gut over the first 1000 days. Skin to skin contact, the mode of birth, breastfeeding, formula feeding, medication and environmental exposures all play a role.
Another key factor is the introduction of solids – when food is introduced, how it is introduced, and which foods are introduced have a massive impact on the gut.
During the first 2-3 years is when we have the greatest control over our child’s environment. So we should do everything we can to set them up for a long, healthy life.
When should we be introducing solid foods? Is there a timeframe?
When we look at the research, it seems that introducing solids after 17 weeks alongside breast milk reduces the risk of food allergies. Most suggest that introducing solids occurs around the 6-month mark.
However, instead of stating an exact month or week for every baby, I encourage that you look to your baby. Start introducing food when they are showing the milestones that they are ready for solids.
The milestones you want to see include:
- Good head and neck control
- Sitting upright unassisted
- Showing interest in food, opening their mouth to mimic eating
- Watching your food when you are eating
- The ability to open their mouth to a spoon and close the mouth around it
- Being able to say ‘I’ve had enough’ – either by turning their head or raising their hand
You also want to ensure they are free of any colic symptoms. When introducing food, you want to be able to tell if they react to a specific food. This is impossible to do if they are suffering from colic symptoms!
What are some of the factors to consider when we’re introducing solids?
There are a few things to think about when it comes to what foods you’re going to introduce and when. I encourage parents to consider:
- Foods that encourage a healthy gut – avoiding foods that your baby is too young to digest or that can cause leaky gut and inflammation
- Nutrient-rich wholefoods as a focus – these natural foods provide essential vitamins and minerals, while also reducing exposure to toxins
- Preparation – consider the source of the food, the preparation and cooking methods to support digestion
- A healthy relationship with food – creating a loving, happy mealtime experience can set your child up for a good relationship with nutritious food long-term
What signs and symptoms should we look for when introducing solids?
There are a few key symptoms to watch out for. With each food, we want to rule out anaphylaxis, as this is a medical emergency. If there is any swelling of the lips, eyes and face, problems breathing and pallor, seek medical help immediately.
However, there are also more mild reactions. These are not as extreme, but they are still important. Common symptoms include:
- Bowel changes – constipation or loose bowels
- Skin breakouts – rashes, eczema, hives or welts
- Excessive crying
- Nasal congestion and mouth breathing
Dark circles under the eyes (this can take 2-3 days to surface)
In some cases, these signs simply show your baby is not ready for that food. You can try reintroducing it 3+ months down the track.
It’s best to introduce one food at a time. That way, you know whether a food causes a reaction or not.
Keep a journal where you track which food you introduced, if your bub liked it, if there was a reaction, and how it was prepared. If your baby does react, wait for symptoms to settle before you introduce a new food.
What are some good first foods to introduce? Are there specific nutrients we need to consider in first foods?
It’s important to know that the iron content in breastmilk drops at about 6 months. The RDI for a baby aged 7-12 months is 11mg, which can be hard to get in.
When it comes to iron-containing foods, it’s not just about what the iron content is, it is also how well it is absorbed. Haeme iron from animal sources is much easier to absorb compared to non-haeme from plant foods and iron-fortified foods.
One of the best first foods is chicken liver. It is a superfood that is rich in iron, and babies love it – even if you don’t! Bone broth with some pureed meat can also introduce meat as a first food in a gentle way.
Another good option is egg yolk. Although egg whites are best introduced at a later date, egg yolks are easy for the body to break down and are rich in choline. Choline is needed for the healthy development of the brain and nervous system.
If you can source high-quality eggs, the yolk is best served soft-boiled. Soft boiled egg yolk contains enzymes that help with digestion. You can start by offering as little as 1/8th teaspoon.
Although grain-based options such as white rice cereal are touted as first foods, they are not ideal. Rice cereal contains anti-nutrients that can affect the absorption of essential minerals.
Babies don’t produce amylase, the enzyme needed to break down grains, until after 1 year. That’s why I recommend avoiding grains such as wheat and rice until around 2 years old, when their amylase enzymes reach an optimal level.
How can we make sure our babies are absorbing as much nutrition as possible?
There are a few simple ways to boost your baby’s absorption of essential nutrients.
Firstly, always go for high-quality wholefoods. Source your eggs from chooks that are pastured and free-range. When it comes to dairy products and meat, opt for grass-fed. Higher quality foods will contain more of the nutrients your baby needs to thrive.
Secondly, make sure that any fruit and veggies are ripe. Ripe avocado contains more lipase that helps your baby to break down fat. A brown banana has more amylase that breaks down carbohydrates.
When it comes to veggies, another trick is to add a source of fat. For example, make a pumpkin mash with a little ghee or coconut oil. Fat helps us to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients from our veggies.
Do you recommend a probiotic supplement for bubba when introducing solids?
When it comes to probiotics, I prefer starting with fermented foods. Foods such as sauerkraut juice, coconut yoghurt and coconut kefir contain beneficial bacteria that support the development of your baby’s gut.
However, if your baby presents with an ongoing issue or condition such as eczema, food allergies or digestive problems, a baby-specific probiotic may be warranted. Make sure you seek professional advice to ensure you are using the right strains for your little one’s specific health concern.
Remember – as a breastfeeding mumma, you might want to take a probiotic that can benefit both of you!
Can you tell us a little bit more about your Thriving Bubba e-book?
Thriving Bubba covers the key areas you want to consider when it comes to your little one’s health. The goal is to empower parents with the knowledge they need for their baby’s first 1000 days.
We cover topics including diet, nourishing recipes, a timeline for introducing solids, how to soothe a colicky baby, environmental concerns, supplements and safe essential oil use for babies.
Want to get your hands on Kasey’s Thriving Bubba e-book? You can grab your copy here.