Putting theory into practice: A dietitian’s personal journey through the introduction of solids
You’ve survived pregnancy, birth and the fourth trimester. Life with a newborn is settling into more of a routine. There’s maybe even a few longer stretches of sleep starting to appear on the horizon. Then, before you know it, another milestone looms around the corner – the introduction of solid food. Similarly to all other aspects of parenting, there’s an absolute myriad of information, advice and guidelines to set your baby on an early path to positive, healthy habits. I should know – as a Paediatric Dietitian, I was excited to put my knowledge into practice. If only I could quieten that little voice inside my head telling me I was about to get a huge wakeup call. So, in retrospect, just how did the reality of introducing solids compare to the theory I’d been trading on?
“They’ll be eating Christmas dinner!” a sage old Health Visitor promised me somewhere in the haze of those early months. This ambitious prediction would have seen my baby twins dining on turkey and stuffing by five months. Current guidelines on the timing of introduction of first solids state “When your infant is ready – at around six months, but not before four months – start to introduce a variety of solid foods, starting with iron-rich foods, while continuing breast (or formula) feeds”. It can be difficult to know when your infant is ready, but general signs to look for include: the ability to sit unsupported, head control, absence of forward tongue thrust pushing food out, interest in family foods and increased milk feeds. Weary from constant breastfeeding, I duly mixed up my babies’ first porridge as the clock ticked over into the fourth month. While the first six to eight weeks of solids saw the food go mostly anywhere but in their mouths, it did provide a sensory experience which familiarised them with the taste, smell and texture of various first foods. It also allowed me extra time to get my head around the practicalities of working through this milestone. The slow and steady approach gave us all more confidence so that we hit the ground running at six months, when three square meals a day were suddenly on the menu.
“Enjoy family meal times together!” I can hear the ghost of myself from working days past advising clients. Meal times are one of the most drastically altered times of day for new parents. With a new addition, family members often eat at different times (that is, whenever they can grab a mouthful between other domestic tasks) and pull together quick, no frills meals. Relaxing meal times are relegated to the past, and the idea of tucking in alongside your little one seems like a pipe dream. However, even from those early days, observational learning is incredibly powerful and modelling positive behaviours at meal times is an invaluable investment in the future. This doesn’t necessarily mean loving pumpkin puree for lunch as well – but it does refer to settling down with your baby (even just once or twice a day) in an environment that is limited from distractions and having a few nourishing mouthfuls of your own. Over time this pattern may evolve to include other meal times and members of the family (when possible), and eventually sharing family foods together as your baby progresses through tastes and textures.
“Hmm, that sounds complicated” my Health Visitor mused doubtfully when I told her about the salmon, broccoli and crème fraiche lattice tart I’d prepared (with my eyelids propped open with toothpicks) for my babies’ lunch. “Keep it simple” she advised. While previously I had readily espoused the benefits of fresh, healthy, homemade meals, now the pressure was on to come up with the goods. In the past, it was recommended that solids were steadily introduced in a progression of the various food groups starting from six months of age. More recently, this approach has been relaxed and now most foods can be introduced in a texture appropriate format from six months. This is great news for fatigued parents spending time in the kitchen preparing two meals – one for baby, one for everyone else. Now many simple, nourishing family favourites (such as chicken and vegetable casserole, spaghetti bolognaise and risotto) can be cooked and then either blended, mashed or minced down to suit everyone’s needs. Be sure to use a baby friendly stock, and add salt at the table only for older members of the family.
Having trawled around every baby and toddler activity possible, I can safely conclude that they tend to run for between thirty to forty five minutes, in accordance with the attention span of the target audience. Even within that timeframe, the focus and rhythm of the activity regularly changes. Yet in practice it’s very common to hear that meal times can run for up to an hour. Meal times are essentially another activity in the daily routine and may benefit from borrowing similar principles – keep to a reasonable time frame, provide variation in colour, taste and texture and have a few old favourites up your sleeve. And, if all else fails, pack it up early, take a deep breath and remember that tomorrow is a new day.
For more information about the introduction of solids, or to make an appointment with Robyn, please contact The Possums Clinic on (07) 3036 4081 or email [email protected]