Introducing solids to your baby can feel like yet another complicated thing that you have to do right. Just when it feels like you've finally cracked milk feeds, someone brings up the idea of starting solids.
'Have you thought about when? You must introduce / delay as much as possible'
'Are you going to spoon-feed or let your baby feed themselves?'
'Are you sure they need that much milk / don't need more milk?'
It's unsurprising that this can all start to feel a bit exasperating. Suddenly you're worrying about what, when and how much your baby needs. But need it really be this stressful?
In a word - no.
Moving your baby onto a solid diet is an important stage, yes. But it's not the rush and precision exercise many will lead you to think it is. In the midst of all the conflicting advice you will likely get, here are 10 evidence based things to think about that will help you make the best choice for you and your baby - and stop you getting too overwhelmed in the process.
1. Try to delay solids until six months.
Research has shown that there is generally no benefit in starting any earlier, but the risk of gastroenteritis can go up if you start earlier. And besides, six-month-old babies are a lot easier to feed than 4-month-old babies as they can sit up, chew and swallow food. Far more of your carefully chosen offerings are likely to actually go in rather than around your baby.
2. The first few months of solid foods are about tastes and textures, not amounts.
Babies actually need very little solid foods until they are a year old and these foods should be the best possible choices. Estimates of how much a baby needs from food between 6 - 8 months suggests less than 200 calories. Choose wisely - choices should complement milk (hence the name complementary feeding), not replace too much of it.
3. On that note, milk should still be a major part of the diet.
You do not need follow-on formula, whatever the adverts might tell you, whether you're breast or bottle-feeding. First stage formula is more nutritious than second stage. There is no need to switch. Breast milk does not suddenly lose all its nutrients overnight at six months. Milk is one of the most energy dense and nutrient rich foods you can give your baby. Reduce it as you introduce solids but bottle fed babies will still need around 600ml a day at 6 - 8 months and breastfed babies should be fed on demand.
4. Commercial baby foods are fine occasionally and can be convenient.
However, they tend to be high in sugar and lack the range of textures home-cooked food provides; so don't give them all the time. Be careful with how much you give your baby too. Many of the jars have too much food in them for one meal for a younger baby.
5. Remember the baby food industry is there to sell products
The more you buy of their product the better for them and the worse for your pocket. Baby foods are really expensive compared to their non-jarred and 'adult' equivalents. You really don't need a load of devices and ... stuff... if you don't want it.
6. Whatever approach you take to introducing solids, remember the importance of responsive feeding.
What really matters is looking to your baby and matching their pace. Whether you're offering finger foods or puree, baby jars or home made - feed slowly, looking whether your baby wants more. Don't try to encourage them to eat or finish a meal if they don't want to. They know best how hungry they are.
7. Baby-led weaning makes a lot of sense but it might not be right for everyone
A baby-led approach promotes good choices such as delaying solids, family mealtimes and responsive feeding, but that doesn't mean spoons and purees are evil. If you don't want to baby-led wean you can still follow these steps. Let your baby sit with you at meal times and have some finger foods. Offer foods to play with - it helps them learn about textures and might help them be better eaters.
8. Foods are sadly not magical.
They will not help your baby sleep despite what your mother in law says. Weaning foods are often low in calories and end up displacing milk so your baby might even eat less. And besides, babies wake for lots of different reasons, not just hunger - just like adults do. Feeling cold, wanting a drink, or just needing to be close to someone - but babies can't sort those things out for themselves.
9. If a baby is hungry, or a big baby but not yet six months old, the best choice is to give more breast or formula milk.
Milk is energy dense. You can make enough breast milk for your bigger baby - after all the body can adapt to feeding twins or more. As above, weaning foods are lower in calories than milk and more difficult to persuade a young baby to eat.
10. Relax. It is likely your baby is getting enough.
We have survived for millennia without weaning guides and specific schedules for types of foods and nutrients. Offer your baby a wide range of foods, tastes and textures and keep giving them lots of milk. Your baby will let you know if they are hungry!
Dr Amy Brown discusses these steps and more in her new book Why Starting Solids Matters out now, published by Pinter and Martin.