Don't rely on outdated information and unsolicited advice to start your baby on solid foods.
I am someone who spends most of my day thinking and reading about feeding babies. I have to admit, I cringe a little when I read some of the bad advice out there about starting solids. I've seen my share of info-graphics, mom-group "tips", and outdated info in books, to write an entire article about baby feeding myths.
Which is exactly what I've done.
Like any parenting topic, advice often comes from personal experience. Which tends to be very individual and the advice doesn't always work for all babies.
Some bad advice can put babies at risk for nutrient deficiencies, choking, or simply missing out on opportunities for learning and skill development.
I've also included some myths specific to baby led weaning. Baby led weaning is a topic that carries some controversy. There is a lot of misinformation out there. Unfortunately, it is a relatively new concept (though parents have been using the approach long before it had a name), so there isn't a large amount of research evidence on it. This causes a lot of confusion for parents and many healthcare providers aren't up to date on the topic enough to give advice on it.
Whether you choose baby-led weaning, a spoon-feeding approach, or a finger food and spoon feeding combination approach, there are some common myths that apply regardless of feeding style.
Myth #1: Fruits and Vegetables are the best first foods
The truth is, the most important first foods for baby are iron-rich foods. This is because breast milk and formula do not contain enough iron to meet your baby's high needs after around 7 months old. Breast milk or formula contain most of the nutrients your baby could get from fruits and vegetables. Offer high iron foods first such as meat, fish, poultry, lentils, beans, and iron-fortified infant cereals. It is a good idea to introduce a wide variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables in the first year but try to prioritize iron-rich foods.
Myth #2: Baby shouldn't have allergenic foods or grains in the first year
Babies can be introduced to all foods, even allergenic ones, at their starting point with solids (around 6 months old). Babies are perfectly capable of digesting grains at this point as well.
It is a good idea to wait a few days between introducing potentially allergenic foods (dairy, eggs, nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, sesame, wheat, soy) but you do not have to space out introduction of foods not on this list.
Myth #3: Food before 1 is just for fun
Want to annoy a pediatric dietitian? This is the phrase that does it.
For some reason this myth is the most common thing I see quoted when a mom is asking for advice on introducing solid foods.
Complementary foods have a large value in the first year of life (and food should always be fun!). There are important nutrients that babies need to receive from complementary foods (see iron above). Learning about taste, textures, colours, shapes, and how to self-feed are essential skills that are developed between 6-12 months when starting solid foods. This statement comes from a good place, encouraging words to support a parent who is struggling with the stress of starting solids. However, it could lead a parent to believe that foods hold no importance and miss out on the introduction of important nutrients and texture progressions.
Myth #4 Baby is ready for solids at 4 months old
Most babies are not ready to start solids until closer to 6 months. There is also no nutritional benefit to introducing solids this early and their gut likely isn't ready at this time. A "too big" or "too small" or hungry baby is not a sign that they are ready for solid foods. Introducing solids early won't help baby sleep better...sorry.
Myth #5 Baby should be hungry at the table or they wont eat
Bringing a hungry baby to the table will only frustrate them for being stuck in their high chair. Babies don't learn that table food=fullness until around 9-12 months old. Continue responsive breast or formula feeding on demand throughout the first year.
Myths about Baby Led Weaning
Baby led weaning is an approach that encourages parents to trust their baby to lead the way with beginning solid foods. Many opponents of the baby led weaning fear the concept of introducing finger foods to baby and assume parents are giving baby's large "chunks" of food carelessly. Often, they do not realize that current infant feeding recommendations suggest allowing baby to attempt self-feeding with soft finger foods regardless of whether a baby-led weaning approach is used. Baby-led weaning simply means that babies are not spoon-fed but self-feed entirely.
Here are 5 myths specific to baby led weaning:
Myth #1 Baby led weaning will cause choking
There is no increased risk of choking with baby led weaning when foods offered are an appropriate size and texture. Foods should be a "mash-able" texture that can be mashed between your tongue and roof of the mouth. They should also be about the size and length of an adult pinky finger so baby can hold it with their fist. Common choking hazards should also be avoided until age 4 (including whole, raw, hard fruits and vegetables like apples and carrot sticks).
Myth #2 Babies need teeth to chew finger foods
Babies can start eating finger foods of an appropriate texture (see above) with or without teeth. A baby will chew with his back gums (where his molars probably wont grow until age 3-4) which are quite strong.
Myth #3 You can feed baby anything on your plate
A great part of baby led weaning is feeding your baby what the family is eating. However, there are foods you might be eating which are not a safe texture or are too highly processed for baby.
Avoid giving baby:
added salt (typically boxed or packaged foods contain high levels of sodium/salt)
honey (avoid entirely)
low-fat or diet foods (babies need fat!)
Feeding your baby what you are eating may require a change of diet for your family to include more fresh, homemade foods.
A baby's plate should include a source of iron, fruit and/or vegetable and a source of fat.
This may require modifying the family meal to suit your baby's nutritional needs.
Myth #4 You cannot give your baby purees
Purees are just another texture! Think about the things you eat everyday that are a pureed texture (yogurt, hummus, applesauce). Offering some pureed texture foods once in a while on a "loaded" spoon that baby self-feeds with is still appropriate. What we want to avoid is only ever offering baby one texture to eat. This is true whether or not you choose to follow a baby led weaning or spoon-feeding approach.
Myth #5 Finger foods must be tiny, bite-sized pieces
At the start of introduction to solid foods (around 6 months of age) babies are developmentally capable of bringing hands, toys, and food to their mouth using a "palmer" grasp. This means they pick up objects using their whole palm in a fist.
This is why finger foods must be a long, slender shape (the shape of an adult pinky finger), so that baby can pick up the food with their palm and gum or gnaw the piece that sticks out from their fist.
Around 9-12 months of age, babies will develop a "pincer" grasp, where they can pick up small pieces with their index finger and thumb. This is when small, bite-sized, pieces of food can be introduced.
Want more information on Baby Led Weaning? Join an in-person Baby Led Weaning workshop in Ottawa.
The nutrition information contained in this resource is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician, registered dietitian, or other qualified healthcare provider with respect to any questions you my have regarding the nutritional requirements based upon a medical condition. Reliance upon any content provided in this resource is solely at your own risk. Speak with you health provider if you suspect your child may have a condition or delay that would prevent them from eating safely.