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Ages & Stages

Breastfeeding & Solid Foods: Working Together

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Breastfeeding, like many other aspects of parenting, is a gradual process of increasing independence and self-mastery on your baby's part and a gradual stepping back on yours.

You may have already experienced the beginnings of this process during your baby's first half year, as they learned to drink expressed breast milk from a bottle or cup. Still, the two of you were closely tied together in a nutritional sense: your child thrived on your breast milk alone, which provided the nutrients they needed.

Introducing solid foods to your baby

After your baby's first 6 month, your breast milk will continue to provide the great majority of needed nutrients even as they start to sample a variety of new foods. Although your baby will no doubt greatly enjoy the introduction of new tastes and textures, their experiences with solid food are still just practice sessions for the future. It's important to make sure they continue getting enough breast milk to meet their nutritional needs.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for about 6 months. After adding solid foods to your baby's diet at about 6 months, continue breastfeeding up to two years or beyond, as long as mutually desired by your and your child.

What about food allergies?

Parents with food allergies are often advised to avoid foods that commonly cause allergic reactions (such as cow's milk, dairy products and foods made from peanuts or other nuts). But recent research found that the late introduction of certain foods may actually increase your baby's risk for food allergies and inhaled allergies. You should discuss any concerns with your pediatrician.

If no allergies are involved, simply watch your baby for signs that they are interested in trying new foods. Then, you can start to introduce them gradually, one by one.

Signs that an older baby is ready for solids foods

  • Sitting up with minimal support

  • Showing good head control

  • Trying to grab food off your plate

  • Continuing to act hungry after breastfeeding

  • Turning their head to refuse food when they are not hungry

  • Losing the tongue-thrusting reflex that causes food to be pushed out of their mouth

Recommended first food choices

Since most breastfeeding babies' iron stores begin to diminish at about 6 months, good first choices for solids are those rich in this mineral.

Current recommendations are that meats, such as turkey, chicken and beef, should be added as one of the first solids to the breastfed infant's diet. Meats are good sources of high-quality protein, iron and zinc and provide greater nutritional value than other foods.

Iron-fortified infant cereal (such oatmeal) is another good solid food to complement breast milk. When first starting infant cereal, check the label to make sure that the cereal is a single-ingredient product and does not contain added fruit, milk or yogurt solids or infant formula. This will decrease the likelihood of an allergic reaction with the first cereal feedings.

Adding breast milk to cereal

You can mix the cereal with your breast milk, water or formula (if you've already introduced formula to your baby) in the bowl until it is a thin consistency. As your baby gets used to the taste and texture, you can gradually make it thicker and increase the amount.

Once your child gets used to these new tastes, gradually expand their choices. Consider applesauce, pears, peaches, bananas, cooked carrots, peas, sweet potatoes or other mashed or strained fruit and vegetables. Introduce only one new food at a time and wait several days before you add another new food. This helps ensure your child does not have a negative reaction.

Gradually expose your baby to a variety of tastes

Gradually, you will learn which foods your baby enjoys and which ones they clearly dislike. Your feeding relationship will grow beyond nursing to a more complex interaction—not a replacement for breastfeeding, certainly, but an interesting addition to it.

Remember to keep exposing your baby to a wide variety of foods. Research shows that some babies need multiple exposures to a new taste before they learn to enjoy it. The breastfed baby has already been experiencing different flavors in the nursing parent's breast milk, based upon their diet. So, solid foods often have a familiar taste when introduced to the breastfed baby.

How much and when to offer baby solid foods

Babies need only a few spoonfuls as they begin solids. Since these first foods are intended as complements and not replacements for your breast milk, it's best to offer them after a late afternoon or evening feeding. This is when your milk supply is apt to be at its lowest and your baby may still be hungry.

Does my baby need an iron supplement?

Some pediatricians recommend an iron supplement. If this is the case, be careful to give the exact dose prescribed by your doctor. Always store iron and vitamin preparations out of the reach of young children in the household, since overdoses can be toxic.

You may find that the number of breastfeedings will gradually decrease as your baby's consumption of solid food increases. A baby who nursed every 2 to 3 hours during early infancy may enjoy 3 or 4 meals of breast milk per day (along with several snacks) by their twelfth month.

Maintaining your milk supply

Unless you intend to wean your baby soon, be sure to continue breastfeeding whenever they desire, to keep up your milk supply. To ease breast discomfort, you may need to express a small amount of milk manually on occasio, if the baby's decreasing demand leaves you with an oversupply.

Breast comfort is another reason why a gradual introduction of solid foods is a good idea, since it allows your body time to adapt to changing demands. Over the span of several months, a readjustment in the supply-and-demand relationship can take place smoothly and painlessly.

More information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding (Copyright © 2024)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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