Breastfeeding is already a full journey. Knowing when to introduce pacifiers, introduce bottles, and even pumping really can be difficult to navigate. When should you introduce solids to a breastfed baby? How will this affect your milk supply? The good news is that it can be done successfully with little to no noticeable difference.
It is important to know before you start that:
1. Solids don’t replace breastfeeding. It is meant to complement it; similar to having a nice steak with a great wine to compliment it. The steak provides your nutrition and protein, the wine is just nice to have with it. Breast milk is the primary source of nutrition for babies, but those puréed carrots just top the meal off. Breast milk should be continued until 12 months, but feel free to continue longer. The CDC recommends breastfeeding up to 2 years.
2. The CDC recommends starting solids at 6 months; however, some babies are not interested or don't show signs of readiness until later. If your baby is not interested when you try a feeding, no problem, just continue nursing and try again in the next few weeks.
3. Signs of readiness look different for different babies. Where some show all signs, others may only show one or two. That’s okay! A few signs to look out for are: baby can sit up on his or her own and tongue thrust is gone (around 5-6 months). That means they are no longer pushing food out of their mouth like they are suckling but can eat from a spoon and swallow. Another sign is that the baby is beginning to chew and also more interested in what you are eating.
4. Never introduce anything that can be a chocking hazard like grapes, popcorn, nuts, hot dogs etc. Solid foods and finger foods differ greatly and could cause your baby to choke. The first introduction of food should be soft and easy to digest.
Let’s remember that starting solids is a way of introducing different textures and tastes, again it is not to take the place of breastfeeding. Breast milk is the nutritional and calorie source for babies. Also make sure you are not introducing solids too early, babies’ tummies are not quite ready to process food until around 6 months (AAP). Talk with your pediatrician before starting solids, especially if you have a family history of food allergies.
How to introduce a solid
What time of day should you introduce a solid? It’s all up to you and depends on your schedule. If your baby is a morning sleeper then introduce it at lunch after you have nursed that way baby will not fill up on the solid but get all the nutrition from the breast milk first.
If your baby refuses it’s okay. Do not force him or her to take the food. There is no need to rush the process, continue breastfeeding and try again later. This is something new, so it may take some warming up. Remember, this is just complementary to breast milk, no pressure.
I recommend starting with vegetables first, maybe thinning it out with a little bit of breast milk. Babies are more inclined to sweeter foods so starting with something savory is a great way to test their palate. Try not to add cereal as this will make the food thicker and could cause choking. I suggest starting off with one food item at a time and watching for allergic reactions. For example, start with carrots for a few days before changing up to a new flavor and do this for all flavors that way if there is a reaction you know exactly what it was that was fed.
Choose a brand that you are comfortable with. If you are really skeptical about jarred baby food, feel free to make some yourself. It's as simple as gathering up some fresh produce, cooking and storing it for later use. This way, you can rest assured that your baby is getting fresh food every time. Check out Pinterest or YouTube for some good homemade baby food ideas as well as cool ways of preparing and storing it.
One thing you may notice is baby’s poop may change from being soft, yellow and seedy, to a firmer texture. This is totally normal. Always make sure the baby is still getting plenty of breastmilk to help keep them hydrated and help with any constipation that could happen.
It’s important to keep the same breastfeeding/pumping schedule. Over time(18-24 months) babies will eat more meals a day and you will notice that your nursing/pumping sessions will become less and less. At 1 year the baby can begin drinking cow’s milk (or any milk of preference) and/or continue to have breastmilk. By that time they may love eating a wide variety of foods.
This can be a hard time for the breastfeeding person as you think about this special time possibly coming to an end. If this transition makes you feel down in the dumps, be sure to speak with someone about how you are feeling. Don't feel isolated. Many moms experience this. Talking with other parents, a friend, a professional or a special person are all great options. Also, think about ways to commemorate your breastfeeding journey like a piece of breastmilk jewelry, a bead for your bracelet or a charm for a necklace. This way, you will always have a special keepsake along with special memories.
If you are feeling anxiety about breastfeeding and solids, feel free to reach out to a breastfeeding specialist, Lactation Counselor or IBCLC to help you develop a plan to make the transition more comfortable for you and the entire family.