Breastfeeding and the Introduction of Solid Foods

Funny close up of feeding baby with vegetable puree
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Breastfeeding mothers are often confused about how to go about starting solid foods with their baby. You may have questions about what age to start the baby food and whether or not to breastfeed before or after feeding the solids. Here you find information and helpful tips.

At What Age Do Babies Start Eating Baby Food?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breast milk as the primary source of nutrition for about the first six months of life.

Once your baby is six months old, breast milk is still healthy and beneficial, and it should be your child's primary source of nutrition. But, your baby needs additional nutrients from food, especially iron, protein, and zinc. At this point, your baby is ready for baby food or solid foods. Your baby's health care provider will advise you when it's time to begin introducing your baby to solids. You will also start to notice these signs that your baby is ready.

  • He can sit up in a high chair and hold his head up without help.
  • He is interested in your food and tries to imitate you eating.
  • He can grab things and bring them to his mouth.
  • He no longer has the tongue-thrust reflex that pushes the food out of his mouth. He can now take a spoonful of food into his mouth and swallow. 
  • He is beginning to chew. 

Breastfeeding When Your Baby Starts Solids

So, what happens to the breastfeeding sessions when you start giving your child baby food?

The start of solid foods is not meant to replace breastfeeding. Beginning at about six months, the slow addition of baby foods into your child's diet is intended to complement or add to breastfeeding. At this stage, the new foods are even called complementary foods. Breastfeeding and breast milk are still very important as your child transitions to solid foods.

Experts recommend the continuation of breastfeeding or breast milk along with complementary foods for at least the first year.

How to Start Solid Foods

Start introducing baby foods gradually. Begin with foods high in iron and protein such as pureed meats (turkey, chicken, beef), and iron-fortified baby cereal followed by soft pureed vegetable and fruits, and age-appropriate snacks. Here are some tips for starting solids.

  • At first, your baby may refuse solids or have trouble eating the new foods. It's OK, keep trying. It may take a little practice and patience, but your child will get it eventually. Try offering a few spoons of the solids before breastfeeding since your baby may be more likely to try the new foods if her belly isn't already full. While you're in the learning phase, you can continue to breastfeed as you usually would. 
  • Add your breast milk to baby cereal or mix dry baby cereal using your milk. Make it on the thinner side at first, so it's easier for your baby to eat. As your child gets used to it, you can make it thicker.
  • Add foods one at a time and wait a few days between starting new foods so you can tell if your child reacts to something new. 
  • You can start to offer finger foods such as dry cereal, crackers, cut-up cooked vegetables, and soft fruits, but avoid foods your baby can choke on such as raisins, nuts, whole grapes, hot dogs, and popcorn.
  • Once breastfeeding and feeding solids are going well, it doesn't really matter which one you choose to offer first. Generally speaking, between six and nine months of age, most mothers are giving the solids as snacks more than anything else. So just be mindful of how often the baby is breastfeeding. If you are supplementing some feeds with a bottle, make sure that the baby is still getting enough for his weight. 
  • If you breastfeed when you wake up in the morning and your baby is showing signs that he can eat solids right after, go for it! At the same time, it is fine to wait and sit down to an afternoon meal, if that's more convenient for you. It is difficult to say how much time there should be between breastfeeding and feedings of solid foods at this stage because each baby has different needs. Some may need three meals a day, and others are barely finishing one. 

    Solid Foods and Baby Poop

    You may notice changes to the color and consistency of your baby's poop once he starts eating solid foods. It is usually thicker, more formed, and may take on the color of the foods that he's eating. Starting solids also increase the chances of constipation. So, keep an eye on your child's fluid intake during this time. If too many breastfeeding sessions are replaced by solid feedings too quickly, your baby may not be getting enough fluid. To relieve constipation, put the baby to the breast more frequently.  

    A Sample Schedule for Breastfeeding Along With Solid Foods

    Between six and nine months, your baby will be learning to eat solids and you can offer baby food two to three times a day. You can gradually increase how much solid food he's getting. By the time he's nine months old, he may be on a more routine feeding schedule. Between nine and twelve months you can offer solids three to four times a day. Here is a sample feeding schedule for an older baby (nine months to one year). Remember that there is no right or wrong way to feed meals to your baby, but if you feel that you need some guidelines, then give this a try.

    • 5 am: Wakeup/Breastfeed
    • 7 am: Breakfast
    • 8 am: Nap (with or without breastfeeding first, depending on your baby)
    • 10 am: Breastfeed
    • Noon: Lunch
    • 1 pm: Nap (with or without nursing beforehand)
    • 3 pm: Breastfeed
    • 5 pm: Dinner
    • 7 pm: Bedtime/Breastfeed
    • Your baby may still awaken once a night to breastfeed. It's normal.

    When Does Solid Food Replace Breast Milk?

    Over time, your baby will take more and more solid food. By the time he is one year old, he will be eating a wide variety of foods. Solid food will become your child's main meal by the time he is 18 - 24 months old, and breastfeeding will become the snack. Your child still needs milk, though. At one year, children can begin drinking cow's milk, start toddler formula, or continue to have breast milk. Your pediatrician will guide you as to how many ounces of milk your child needs, usually between 16 and 24 ounces a day. If you'd like to continue to breastfeed, there's no need to stop. Experts recommend the continuation of breastfeeding along with solid food for as long as you and your child desire

    Sources:

    Eidelman, A. I., Schanler, R. J., Johnston, M., Landers, S., Noble, L., Szucs, K., & Viehmann, L. Policy Statement. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Section on Breastfeeding. 2012. Pediatrics, 129(3), e827-e841.

    Gahagan S. The development of eating behavior-biology and context. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics: JDBP. 2012 Apr;33(3):261.

    Jonsdottir OH, Thorsdottir I, Hibberd PL, Fewtrell MS, Wells JC, Palsson GI, Lucas A, Gunnlaugsson G, Kleinman RE. Timing of the introduction of complementary foods in infancy: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2012 Dec 1;130(6):1038-45.

    Meek JY. The American Academy of Pediatrics New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding (Revised Edition). Bantam. 2017.

    Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

     

    Updated by Donna Murray