Your baby's first step isn't necessarily going to be the biggest one they take. Learning to use the potty, sleeping by themselves and those initial words are equally big milestones for little ones. One of our personal favourites is moving on from a mother's milk to real food, and so for this blog we want to give you a quick guide on how to introduce your baby to solid foods, and what you should be drawing up for their first menu.
The Effects of Breastmilk on food preferences
Before we dive straight into what's to be served on their plate, let's talk a bit on how you can use breastfeeding to optimize a baby's fondness for different foods. Breast milk is a feast of over 200 different vitamins, proteins and other bits good for the body, but these don't even cover the multitude of flavours produced. It is being suggested, by research, that "Second hand" flavours in breast milk means that by the time your baby is ready to take on solid foods, they will have encountered a great many taste sensations.
Whilst there's good evidence to suggest breastfed babies - as opposed to formula-fed - are more open to try new foods once eating solids, the delicacies they'll ultimately go for a more based on what Mums themselves consume on a regular basis. Even when still breastfeeding, strong flavoured foods i.e. ones rich in garlic or those particularly sweet, will have your baby attached to your breast for longer.
Tell-tale signs they are ready for solid foods
The typical age to move your baby onto solid foods is 4 to 6 months, but there's a lot you can watch out for to know when they're truly ready. Much of this relates to posture; if they've got full head control, are able to sit up straight and have doubled from their birth weight, then feeding time shan't be far off.
You can also observe the way their mouth is working, since their ability to chew and swallow safely will be vital from here on out. A normal response in infants is forcing their tongue outwards when it is touched or depressed. This is called the "extrusion reflex", and once you notice its absence then you know they won't simply push the food back out again. To see if their ability to swallow has improved, try and spot if they are drooling less, though not counting any drool that may be a result of teething.
Last, but perhaps most obvious, you should be able to see they're getting hungry! Your baby will start to take a greater interest in what you eat, and this is important as they can be heavily influenced by the sight and smells of what Mum and Dad have for dinner.
What you will need
You can probably name most of these off the top of your head, but here's a few of the most important bits of tableware to take to the first bite:
The first meal and what to serve
Each of your baby's meals should really be seen as a chance for them to transition. It takes time for them to become accustomed to eating a greater palette of foods, and so it's good to stick to the general progression of puréed or semi-liquid food > mushed up foods > small and bite-sized pieces of food. It's also important to still give them breastmilk/formula, even mixing into baby cereal.
As you start to feed them more and more, there's a couple of things to bear in mind. First of all, be ready for mess. Whilst bibs and splash mats will do their best to save clothes and the floor, there's no way to escape the inevitable spillage. To know when your little one's full up, common behaviours include leaning back, turning their head or playing with their spoon. Your baby's poo will start to change colour; obviously something very natural. You can use our Baby Poo Colour Guide to check which colours match which diet, and if there's any unlikely cause for concern.
The advantages to making your own baby food
Sadly, the thing that characterizes most commercially-made baby food is its blandness. The assumption that babies are undiscerning to flavours is woefully off, and as we specified before, their accommodation to different tastes is something first encountered during breastfeeding.
Babies are sensitive to bitter foods, and you'll want to avoid anything likely to irritate them, but otherwise products like the Fill N Squeeze Baby Food Pouch/Filler are your gateway to experiment. Throw in different flavours, try out different cuisines from different countries, and don't be frightened by the thought of spicy food. Look into what really works, rather than your own intuition. For example, the popular idea that vegetables must come before fruit is quite the myth, in fact it's been proven that the the after-taste of sweet foods actually enhances those of greens!
How to tell if they really don't like certain foods
Often, parents reject certain foods because their baby squints, winces or raises their upper lip. These funny faces are very natural responses, but aren't signs that the item needs to be taken off the menu. It takes time to get over an initial dislike for a certain type of food, and whilst you should never force your baby to eat their food, don't give up after the first try.
A clever way to determine if some solid food is never going to be a favourite is to watch what they do when you put the food in your mouth. If they turn their head away, pushes away their spoon or gags, then no compliments to the chef we're afraid. However, you can always revisit the rejected morsel a week or so later, and see if the fussy food critic has had a change of heart.
What are some of your own tried and tested methods of introducing your baby onto solid foods? We're after the real unique methods! You can let us know in the comments, or over at our Facebook page, Twitter or Google+.