There’s an art to feeding a six-month-old baby and – for the new parent – a sense of trepidation. Everybody seems to have a different opinion: start with purees, gradually introducing texture; avoid purees, and go straight for “finger foods”; begin with bland food, such as rice cereal; rice cereal will set your child up for obesity and diabetes, just let them eat what you’re eating; fruit adds fibre – but might give your child a sweet tooth. With all these conflicting messages, just how do you decide what, when and how to feed your baby?
Amelia had her first taste of food at 4.5 months. It was a smidge of roasted pumpkin, proffered on my fingertip. She enjoyed it immensely – but this was hardly what I would call “starting solids.” Every few days (maybe once or twice a week) she would try out a little morsel – a mouthful of rice cereal (she hated it, and with good reason – it’s completely bland and disgusting), a lick of banana (not keen, surprisingly), a munch of strawberry (winner!). She had her first meal at 5.5 months: a packet of Rafferty’s Garden vegetable puree. She gobbled up around 100 grams in a sudden feeding frenzy! But it was not quite a thing yet: I fed her when she seemed particularly hungry in the evening, and wasn’t concerned if she didn’t – breastmilk was, and still is, her primary source of nutrition.
It was around the six-month mark that she really began to take an interest in food, and regular, nightly dinnertime became necessary. I decided to feed her purees because she was genuinely hungry, even after breastfeeding. Some babies this age are more into playing with the food, and aren’t so bothered with how much ends up in the tum. Milly needs her belly filled, so offering cut up pieces of food that require more chewing than she is capable of won’t help much. However, I’ll also offer finger foods during the day: rusk sticks, cut fruit and vegetables, a piece of bread (well, that one time), little bits of whatever I’m eating. She has tried cheese, avocado, cucumber, the foam off my soy decaf mocha, and a whole heap of other things. She’s a keen and somewhat adventurous eater, currently learning to chew soft things, and generally enjoying the challenge of picking up food and directing it to her mouth.
So how did we make these decisions? (I say we, but really, my darling husband has mostly just been watching in fear and trepidation, questioning my every feeding choice, worried about choking hazards and germs and allergies – God bless him). I reasoned that whether she eats purees or finger foods, she will inevitably learn to chew and swallow. I can feed her only savoury foods until she’s five, but I can’t delete her natural preferences – either her individual taste, or nature’s built-in drive to stock up on salty, fatty and sweet stuff. She’ll like what she likes and the best I can do is encourage healthy eating by providing opportunities to try a wide range of different flavours; limiting unhealthy foods; and best of all, leading by example and choosing a healthy and varied diet for myself.
Feeding your baby doesn’t have to be so complicated that you’d need a degree in nutrition just to make a basic meal plan. The main points to keep in mind, for safety, are:
- Never leave your baby unattended while eating. If your little one starts choking on a piece of food, you need to be on hand to help out. Please make sure you know how to respond to a choking hazard – maybe talk to your GP or maternal health nurse if you’re not sure where to find this out.
- Do not feed your baby honey. It can cause botulism, a nasty, life-threatening disease.
- Finger foods are best served in pieces smaller than a pea, to reduce the risk of choking.
- Hard foods, such as boiled lollies, nuts and seeds, popcorn, etc are best avoided as they can cause choking, or small pieces can become lodged in the airways and cause irritation and infection.
It is no longer recommended to avoid common allergens before the first birthday, but it is a good idea to introduce new foods gradually at a rate of one every few days, so that in the case of a reaction you can identify the problem food easily.
This is all pretty general advice, and in no way intended to replace the advice of your doctor, paediatrician or health nurse.