When everyone is offering up advice—mothers-in-law, strangers, friends — starting your baby on solid foods can be a stressful experience.
When my daughter was almost 6 months old, I looked around for credible information on starting solid foods. This started my research focus which I continually update. My goal is always to separate fact from fiction so parents can make the best choices.
Here are the top key myths about introducing solids to baby.
Myth #1: “Spoon-feeding will cause obesity”
Baby-led weaning (BLW) has become very popular. This is where babies are fed whole food stick-shaped items starting at 6 months. Basically, the puree stage is skipped. Proponents of BLW say that because babies self-feed from the beginning, they won’t be overfed.
Although some research suggests baby-led weaned babies are more tuned into hunger and fullness, it’s hard to determine if it’s due to skipping the spoon or the responsive feeding used by parents.
What’s most important is responsive feeding. This is when caregivers watch out for signs of hunger and fullness and start/stop feeding accordingly. So instead of trying to get one more bite in, the caregiver notices a fullness sign like slowed eating, and stop.
So it’s not the spoon’s fault, but how the person behind the spoon feeds their child.
Myth #2: “Breast milk provides all the nutrition your baby needs for the first year.”
I heard this repeatedly from moms and people everywhere. The theory goes like this: the first year of feeding solids is really only practice – babies get all the nutrition they need from liquids.
Yet at 6 months baby’s iron stores run low. Zinc is another mineral that is needed from complementary foods around 6 months. By nine months, breastfed infants need to get 90 percent of their iron and zinc from complementary foods to meet their nutrient needs.
According to the 2nd edition of Fearless Feeding: “In the first 1000 days, important structures and functions of the brain are rapidly being developed. Iron needs are high due to increased red blood cell formation. Research shows that untreated iron deficiency during this time can cause permanent changes to the structure and function of the brain.”
So make foods high in iron and zinc a priority for baby. These include meat, beans, and fortified cereals.
Myth #3. “Eating comes naturally for baby.”
There’s this idea that eating comes naturally to baby and that solid food introduction is “just for fun.” But babies need to physically learn to eat solid foods, and there is a sensitive window of opportunity to help maximize learning.
Parents can help babies by challenging baby with different textures. So once baby masters a watery puree, they can upgrade to a thicker texture followed by lumpy purees. This should happen soon after 6 months. In fact, key gains in chewing ability occur between 6 and 10 months. Always allow baby to self-feed which typically occurs when they master the pincer grasp at 8-10 months (unless you do BLW at 6 months).
One study found that babies introduced to lumpy solids after 9 months were at higher risk for feeding problems at seven years.
Myth #4.“Serving the same food to baby is fine as long as it is organic and healthy”
There’s such a focus on “healthy” and “organic” food that an important point gets missed: variety. This is especially true with bitter-tasting vegetables. Emerging research suggests that early and rapid introduction of vegetables helps increase their acceptance both in childhood and later in life. After all, infancy is a time children are most open to different tastes and textures.
This is also important for the not-so-good stuff found in food. In 2018, Consumer Reports found about two-thirds of infant and toddler food had concerning levels heavy metals like cadmium, inorganic arsenic, and lead. Leading the pack where items containing rice and sweet potatoes. And it didn’t matter if the product was organic.
The key again is variety. Relying on a few foods for babies even when they are nutritious is not the way to go. Help your baby explore food!
Myth #5: “It’s good to check for allergic reactions 3-5 days after introducing EVERY new food”
If you wait days to check for reactions with every new food you offer, you will be adding foods at a snail’s pace. It makes more sense to watch carefully with highly allergenic foods (they cause 90 percent of food allergies): milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybean. This way you can up the variety of other foods, like veggies, quickly.
Myth #6: “All babies should be introduced to peanuts early”
The advice on when to introduce highly allergenic foods like peanuts is for babies at risk. According to a report from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease expert panel, babies at high risk (severe eczema and/or egg allergy) should be tested between 4-6 months, where a doctor can guide parents regarding introduction. Those at moderate risk (mild to moderate eczema) can introduce a safe form of peanuts around 6 months. And those at low risk can introduce peanuts “freely.”
A safe form means nuts not in whole form but a small amount added whether you’re using peanut powder or mixing peanut butter into cereal. Chunks of peanut butter are a choking risk. It’s best to introduce highly allergenic foods at home. Then wait a few days to see if there is a reaction.
Enjoy and Explore Food
Most importantly, starting baby on solids is about food exploration. Just keep in mind the myths that persist and enjoy the ride.
This was originally published in 2009 and has been updated
For a comprehensive guide on feeding baby, check out Maryann’s book Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair to High School
There seems to be an overemphasis on iron supplementation and iron levels for young babies. Barring a few medical situations most babies do not need extra iron. While there is very little iron present in breastmilk it is in a very bio available form so it is absorbed much more efficiently into babies bodies. Adding iron supplementation can possibly cause less efficient iron absorption and may also possibly influence the types of bacteria that primarily colonize babies digestive tract affecting how they absorb proteins as well. Unless there is a medical need most babies should probably be kept away from fortified iron foods. Talk about myth busting.
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Thanks for your comment. I just researched this topic througoughly — about 14% of children 2 and under will become iron deficient according to national statistics. At 6 months, the recommended amount of iron jumps to 11mg and the amount in breast milk is less than 1mg per liter. So even though it is well absorbed, there still needs to be iron from outside sources after 6 months. Iron fortified cereals can help, especially at the beginning when babies don’t eat much. The only risk involved with iron is giving high amounts through supplementation when iron levels are normal — so usually a doctor prescription is required. The amount in fortified foods is not that much — and most breastfed babies run out of stores at 6 months any way. This studies show they are effective in preventing iron deficiency in breastfed babies http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22043886. Most babies will not become deficient but if it occurs it is well established that it can negatively impact short and long-term cognitive development. The first two years the brain grows at a fast rate and is developing — if there isn’t enough iron it can change the structure and function of the brain,
I would love to see your research to support that “Adding iron supplementation can possibly cause less efficient iron absorption and may also possibly influence the types of bacteria that primarily colonize babies digestive tract affecting how they absorb proteins as well.” Is this before 6 months? Early in life before solids are introduced? I appreciate it!
Faith Storms says
Iron fortified foods are not the best way to get iron into your baby’s system. The iron available in breastmilk is in its natural, God-given form, unlike the iron in fortified foods. I exclusively breastfed my son until he was eight months old and then introduced solid foods. Real foods, like meat and veggies. He never had any iron problems.
Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD says
Thanks for your comment Faith. You are right that the iron in breastmilk is very absorbable but the problem is there isn’t much there — less than 1mg per liter. At 6 months, because iron stores run low, recommendeded intakes of iron for 6 month olds jump to 11mg. If outside sources of iron are not provided, it increases the risk a baby will become deficient. That doesn’t mean every baby will become deficieny and statistics show about 14% of babies are anemic. The key issue with iron deficiency is it can cause lasting congnitive problems if not treated early. The first two years is a time of immense brain growth and development, something researhcers call “the brain growth spurt.” Research shows that iron-fortied cereals are effective in helping protect breastfed babies against deficiency. See this study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22043886
Can a child get iron from other foods? Sure. But cereal can be one source that helps them meet their needs especially at the beginning when babies don’t take much food.