Starting solids is a huge milestone for your baby and is one that should be celebrated. Make sure to introduce different foods gradually to widen their taste palate, starting with single fruits and veggies, then slowly build up their taste menu by combining 2 or more of those fruits and veggies that they love.
It's important to note that introducing solids isn’t the magic solution to all your sleep troubles, neither should it be feared that it will cause a good little sleeper to suddenly start waking.
For those who have a strong sleep foundation, adding solids should not negatively affect sleep, although just as with any new changes, it's perfectly normal to expect a few bumps in the road.
For those who have struggled with sleep, introducing solids can sometimes be the thing that keeps babies satisfied and may assist with longer sleep.
Here are some things you should know before starting solids:
Solids is not meant to replace breast or bottle feeding
It's important to remember that during your baby's first year, breast and bottle feeding is the main source of calories. Exposure to solids should never replace full bottle/breast feedings. If calories are insufficient, night wakings will occur.
This doesn’t mean you need to limit your baby’s solids, here are some guidelines to follow to keep your baby feeding and sleeping well in their first year:
Avoid rigid feeding schedules.
Always be responsive to a baby’s hunger cues by offering the breast or bottle every 2.5 – 3.5 hours during the day on a flexible feeding schedule.
Offer solids 30-90 minutes after breast or bottle feedings.
Always offer fresh and nutrient-rich foods.
Here's a sample schedule when introducing solids to a 6 month old:
Mashed Sweet Potato or Avocado Strips
Mashed Pumpkin and Potato
IMPORTANT: *Please don’t try to replicate this schedule exactly - this is just an example. It's important to always watch your baby's cues for hunger and respond as needed. The time of day when you offer solids can be whatever best fits your lifestyle and your baby’s temperament, but it's always good to try and be consistent if possible .
It's normal for your baby to react to new foods
It's probably best to avoid high allergen foods when starting out. Introduce new food options to your baby one at a time and watch their reaction. Start with single vegetables and fruit so that your baby can appreciate the taste of each vegetable or fruit that you introduce. This will also help form a good foundation for more complex combinations as they grow older, like combining pumpkin and potato or apple and pear - and your baby will more likely accept the new flavours.
Talk with your doctor about anything concerning. Keep in mind, any foods causing itchiness, discomfort, or pain can impact sleep.
Tummy issues may occur
As you start introducing solids, it's important to remember that a baby’s digestive tract may need a bit of time to adjust and, for some, this can impact sleep.
You may find your little one has bowel movements less frequently than before and/or their stool is more formed. This is normal and shouldn’t impact sleep. If your baby is experiencing pain and a firm belly, this can be a sign of possible constipation and can interrupt their sleep. It's important to monitor this and if your baby starts to become distressed you should contact your pediatrician/doctor.
Tip: Be sure to offer sips of water in a soppy cup during solids feeding.
On the other hand, some foods may cause your baby to have more frequent bowel movements. When their poos occur at night or during the early morning hours, they will naturally wake up and will disrupt their sleep. You may need to keep track of what they ate and at what time and try moving those specific foods earlier in the day. This issue typically resolves fairly quickly as your baby becomes more accustomed to eating solids.
Starting solids may not always be the reason for your baby's sudden disruption in sleep
Starting solids is one of many developmental milestones for babies and at the same time they are also facing other developmental changes such as increasing mobility, expanding interest in the world around them, including changing sleep needs. Starting solids may seem like the culprit of interrupted sleep or naps, however this is often coincidental and possibly have nothing to do with it.
When should you start solids?
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) as a general guide recommends to introduce solid foods from around 6 months of age and to encourage to drink from a cup. Some parents start earlier because they may have been told that starting solids will improve their baby's sleep - as mentioned previously this is not necessarily true. However, if your baby is showing signs of readiness to start solids, then you can try introducing a small teaspoon of mashed vegetables. Watch how your baby responds when you place a small amount on their lips - you will start to get a gauge on whether they are ready to start or not. It may take several tries before your baby instinctively swallows the mashed food.
Important: Never force feed your baby if they are not showing readiness. Give it a break and try again after a week or so, you will know they are truly ready when they show a yearning to get that spoon into their mouth.
Before you know it your little one will be picking up that spoon and learning to feed themselves - get ready for the mess!