Liam Moore's first taste of solid food was unplanned. His mother, Liana Moore, had brought him with her to a conference. During the lunch break, she shared a table with a friend who noticed Liam's intense interest in the food they were eating. With Liana's permission, she offered Liam a piece of watermelon - and he eagerly ate it, then reached out for more.
"Liam was only five and a half months at that time," Moore says. "His older brother Jacob wasn't interested in solid foods until he was over six months, so I wasn't expecting it quite so early. But Liam was certainly showing all the signs of being ready."
What were those signs? Moore says her son was very interested in the food others were eating, could sit up well, and seemed not completely satisfied with breastmilk alone. "Sometimes when he nursed, he'd finish and then look around as though wanting something more," she says.
His enthusiastic reaction to that first slice of watermelon confirmed his readiness. "I probably would have waited longer to give him solids if it was up to me - after all, solids are more work than just breastfeeding, " Moore says. "But I think you have to respect your baby."
After that conference, Moore would sit Liam in the high chair at meal times and mash up a little of the food the rest of the family was having. "If there wasn't anything suitable for him to eat, I'd mash a little banana or sweet potato for him." Liam liked almost everything, it seemed - although he rejected mashed peas.
To prepare meat for him, Moore would scrape the cooked, tender meat with the blade of a knife, to make a very soft and easy to eat serving for Liam. By eight months, she found that simply chopping the meat into very small pieces worked well. Soft fruits and cooked vegetables just needed a little mashing.
"I didn't ever give Liam infant cereals," Moore adds. "I tried them with Jacob and he hated them. I think it put him off solids altogether for a while." Instead, she will sometimes offer him whole grain cereal (such as oatmeal) or cooked pasta. But grains are not one of Liam's favourite foods - he prefers meat, vegetables and fruits, along with plenty of breastmilk. Many babies do love cereal though, and since it's fortified with iron, many parents find this an easy way to add iron to baby's diet.
If you have allergies in your family, you may want to take a more cautious approach to starting solids. You might begin by offering a food that is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction (mashed ripe banana or rice cereal), then waiting a few days to see if the baby reacts before offering a new food. Introduce just one new food at a time, and wait until baby is older (at least one year) before trying more allergenic foods such as strawberries, eggs and peanut butter.
Current recommendations on starting solids vary in the details, but the consensus seems to be that they should be offered to babies around the middle of the first year. The American Academy of Pediatrics and The Canadian Paediatric Society both suggest babies are usually ready at about six months. A paper from the Canadian Pediatric Society dealing specifically with the iron needs of infants and young children, notes that "Term infant who are exclusively breastfed do not need supplemental iron until they are six months of age. After six months, breastfed infants should receive extra iron in the form of iron-fortified infant cereals and other iron-rich foods." The paper also recommends that babies who are not breastfed should have iron-fortified formula from birth, and that iron-fortified infant cereals provide a good additional source of iron for those babies.
But these guidelines don't mean that solid foods must be started on the exact day your baby turns six months old. As Moore discovered with her two sons, every baby is different and it is important to look for the signs that indicate your baby is ready for solid foods.
Now that Liam is nine months old, he continues to eat heartily. His meals aren't always what you might expect, Moore confesses. "He might have some leftover vegetables from last night's dinner for breakfast, and supper might end up being mostly fruit." And Moore finds she rarely offers Liam food on a spoon. Instead she puts the food on the tray of his highchair and lets him eat what he wants. "I can't believe how much he eats sometimes," she laughs. "He'll eat a whole orange at one sitting - I remove the membranes for him and break it into small sections and he'll eat the whole thing."
This relaxed approach, Moore says, has made mealtimes a really pleasant (although often messy!) experience for both of them. "Liam really enjoys his food, and that makes it nice for me, too."
Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners