Healthy Living in the North

What does introducing solid food mean for breastfeeding?

Infant eating chicken and peas.I am the mother of an energetic and impish toddler, and have experienced many humbling lessons in my short parenting career. One of my biggest lessons so far is, “You figure something out, and then it changes.”

Take feeding, for example. After an initial learning curve with breastfeeding, my daughter and I got to the point where we were doing really well with it. I appreciated how convenient it became to feed her. Time passed quickly, and around six months of age, it was time to start offering solid food – a whole new chapter with new questions and new learnings.

Good things to know about starting solids:

  • There are no hard and fast rules about how to start solids. Pick a couple of times per day to offer solids, either before or after breastfeeding. It can help to include babies at the table during meal and snack times, so that they can learn by watching other people eat.
  • Focus on iron-rich foods to start, and offer these foods twice per day (for more information, see pumping iron: first foods for building strong babies).
  • When starting solids, babies will likely only eat small amounts. Offer a few small amounts of food a couple of times per day; follow their lead, and offer more if they seem interested.
  • At first, more might come back out of their mouth than goes in! It will take some practice before they figure out how to use their tongues to move food into the back of their mouth for swallowing.
  • Changes in inputs will result in changes in outputs! Poops will look (and smell) quite different, and the frequency of these outputs will also likely change.

What does starting solids mean for breastfeeding? In short, the beginning of solids is not the end of breastfeeding.

  • When starting solids, mama’s milk continues to be the main source of nutrition. Babies six to eight months of age get about 80% of their calories from breastmilk.
  • As they get older, food plays a bigger role. By nine to eleven months of age, babies typically get just under 50% of their calories from breastmilk.
  • By one year, toddlers do well with a predictable routine of three meals and two or three snacks per day. Breastfeeding can fit into the day depending on interest and family schedules.

In our case, my daughter started solids at around six months, and by nine months, she was nursing about five times per day (in the morning, after each of her two naps, at bedtime, and once in the night). At eleven months, we stopped nursing at night. Over the next few months, in preparation for my return to work, we dropped the feeds after naps, too. For the past nine months, we have maintained a nice pattern of nursing in the morning and again when I get home from work. It’s a nice way for us to connect.

Everyone’s breastfeeding journey will be unique. I have found it helpful to learn from other breastfeeding moms; I love hearing their stories. Check out a few more stories about breastfeeding on our blog:

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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Feeding our babies: at what age can we start offering solid foods?

The question

As a mom, I know it can be hard to get straight answers to parenting questions. Websites and discussion boards offer so many conflicting opinions (right?). Even professional recommendations sometime vary. This can be confusing… and frustrating!

baby eating solid foods in high chair

At six months, my daughter let us know she was ready for solids. Here she is eating little bits of soft stew meat as her first food!

As a dietitian, I also know people have a LOT of questions about feeding their babies. Here’s an important one: “When is the ‘right’ time to start offering solid food?”

The recommendation

Northern Health supports the following recommendations from World Health Organization, Health Canada, Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, Breastfeeding Committee for Canada, and Perinatal Services BC:

  • Infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life
  • With continued breastfeeding, complementary solid foods and other fluids are introduced around the age of six months of life
  • Continued breastfeeding is recommended for up to two years and beyond

Well, now that’s a mouthful! Let’s simplify that:

“Breastmilk is the only food a baby needs for the first six months. After that, keep breastfeeding and offer nutritious foods, too.”

The details

Since there are some variations in when babies are ready to eat food, we see the language of starting foods at about six months of age. Some babies will be ready for food a few weeks earlier than six months, some a few weeks later. Your baby will give you signs, not just that they are interested in food, but also that they are developmentally ready. Your baby may be ready for solids if they can:

  • Sit up, unsupported
  • Open their mouth for food
  • Turn their head when they are full

Our daughter let us know when she was ready, which, for her, was just before six months (I have proud mama pictures of her eating little bits of soft stew meat as her first food. So cute!).

More questions

“Don’t some people say, ‘Food before one is just for fun’?”

Red flag! This phrase is concerning because we know how important food is for babies, starting at about six months. One big reason is the increased need for iron at this age. Other reasons include involving babies in family meals and supporting the development of their eating and food acceptance skills.

“What about children at risk for food allergies?”

You may have seen some media stories about the prevention of peanut allergy, where “four-to-six months” is sometimes mentioned. To clarify, the majority of families (98-99%) can introduce peanuts, at home, when baby is about six months old (for more information about safely introducing peanuts and other common food allergens, see Reducing Risk of Food Allergy in your Baby). For a baby with egg allergy or severe eczema (this is not common), their doctor can help make an individualized plan that may involve testing for peanut allergy before introducing peanut-containing foods.

Want up-to-date information on first foods for babies? Check out the following resources:

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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