Solids and snack feeding — what’s the go?

Introducing solid food is your baby’s first step towards weaning — and it’s OK to feel a bit sad about this. This baby you’ve solely nourished is suddenly able to get food from places other than your hardworking breasts! It’s also a time where mums become confused about how often to breastfeed, when to offer food and how much. They get worried when their baby won’t eat, or even the opposite, that their baby loves joining in with family mealtimes so much, breastfeeding loses its novelty and mums fear their babies will wean prematurely.

There’s a happy balance somewhere. It’s just a matter of working out your aim with breastfeeding beyond 6 months and how to put that into practice. Remember, breastmilk is still your baby’s main source of nutrition until 12 months, so offering solid food is supposed to be a complement to that, not for well-meaning aunties or grandmas who may want to endlessly spoon mashes and purees into your baby. The more they eat, the less hungry they are for the good stuff — your breastmilk! There’s a great saying, ‘Food is fun until one’. So giving your baby family foods to lick, suck, feel and explore textures is how they learn.

Offering the breast before solids is a great way to make sure babies are eating to practise these skills rather than to satisfy their hunger. Babies at this age are extremely efficient. You’ll be surprised how much breastmilk they actually drink, even in a few minutes. Letting babies feed themselves solid food is also a wonderful way to not overstuff their tummies. Like they do with breastfeeding, they will only take what they need, it’s all part of that strong survival instinct. Some babies eat more than others. Rather than worrying about whether your baby is eating too little/too much, accept it’s all about taking your baby’s lead. Reluctant eaters will eat eventually. Enthusiastic ones can be monitored by encouraging self-feeding or baby-led solids, coupled with offering the breast for comfort as well as for food.

This week I had a mum ask me about snack feeding. She and other mums in her mother’s group had babies around the 7–8 month mark and were confused. How often were they supposed to offer the breast so as not to encourage snacking, but regularly enough to continue the breastfeeding relationship? My answer to this question is ‘Don’t you have snacks?’ If you look at how often an adult eats and drinks throughout the day: breakfast, a coffee, a biscuit, lunch, an apple, some crackers, a cup of tea, dinner, dessert, a hot chocolate, not to mention sips of water, that’s like about 12–14 times in 24 hours. Breastmilk is both a food and drink, so if it’s offered on demand, there may well be sips taken here and there as a thirst quencher, larger amounts taken for the breakfast, lunch and dinner part, and a few bits in between as snacks. Doing this doesn’t mean you’ll be breastfeeding all day like in the newborn days. Your older baby is much quicker than that now. If you speak to an expert in nutrition, they will tell you that grazing on small portions of food throughout the day constitutes healthy eating — not eating huge meals with big gaps in between. That’s not a natural eating pattern for humans. Why do we expect babies to be different?

For more information on introducing solids, check out these articles on the ABA website: