Give breast milk or solids first?

Many babies will begin to show an interest in solid foods around 6 months of age. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in order to “prevent your baby from getting frustrated when she is very hungry,” you should give your baby a little breast milk first, followed by “very small half-spoonfuls of food,” and ending with more breast milk. (Similarly, the AAP recommends formula-solids-formula for formula-fed infants.)

Your baby may be more accepting of solid foods if another caregiver (e.g., the baby’s father, a grandparent, an older sibling) is willing to spoon-feed the baby or if the solids can be offered as finger foods that the baby can pick up by herself. Begin by breastfeeding your baby for several minutes. Hand her off to Dad for some solids. Then wrap up the feeding with another nursing session.

A contrasting view calls for giving your baby solids first “or else she won’t eat anything.” But such a statement doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. The first solid food feedings for most babies are about the experience rather than the nutrition. During their first year, babies typically get the bulk of their nutrition from breast milk (or formula). Compared to breast milk, solid foods are typically low-calorie and low-nutrition. Plus, even those babies who are eager to start solid foods take in only small amounts—a tablespoon or two several times a day.

Don’t worry if it takes a while for your baby to accept solids. For most babies, this is a slow process. However, if acceptance is going slower than you expected, you may want to reassess your baby’s readiness.

Keep the experience positive. Give your baby one or two small pieces of soft table foods (click here for a list of age-appropriate finger foods) as soon as she seems interested and able to handle them. Expect that she will spend more time feeling the foods and exploring the textures and less time putting the foods in her mouth.

Once your baby is consistently eating three meals a day plus snacks, you might consider breastfeeding apart from mealtimes and snacktimes. Many mothers continue to breastfeed their growing babies “on request,” but as your child takes in more solid foods, she is likely to breastfeed less often. A natural step is to eliminate breastfeeding at mealtime. As your child’s appetite for solid food grows, you may find that breastfeeding your child first thing in the morning, before naptimes, and before bedtime, will satisfy your child’s breast milk needs. (Starting solids is just one step in the process of weaning.) In the event not breastfeeding during mealtimes doesn’t appeal to you or your child, simply breastfeed “on request” and continue to offer a wide variety of solid foods.

Remember that every child is different. Your child’s needs will change over time—perhaps even from day-to-day. Some children consume a steady diet of solid foods and breast milk, but revert back to exclusive breastfeeding when sick. (Many mothers have been relieved, in such instances, to know their babies are staying hydrated and getting the nutrients they need.) The goal here—as in so many aspects of parenting—is to recognize your child’s changing needs and strive to meet those needs in a way that keeps your child happy and healthy.

Click here for additional guidance on starting solids.

Last updated August 30, 2017

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