In the first year of life, babies move from drinking breastmilk or infant formula as their only source of nutrition to eating a variety of foods from the family diet. There are a lot of important food transitions happening at this time.
Which soy foods are appropriate for the growing infant?
During the First 6 Months
During the first half of an infant’s life, babies need breastmilk or infant formula to meet their nutritional requirements for growth and development. A 2018 review study found no abnormalities in human development when babies consumed soy infant formula.1 Additionally, another large study of babies from South Korea found no differences in neuro-development when they were fed soymilk formula versus cow’s milk formula.2
Soy infant formula appears to be a safe, nutritionally complete option for babies in the first year of life, and it’s the only plant-based, non-dairy infant formula option available. A soy infant formula is an option for infants who have a milk allergy or intolerance (although babies have a higher chance of also being allergic to soy), or if a family wants to follow a plant-based eating pattern.3
Starting Solids at 6 Months
No matter the dietary pattern a family follows, and with ongoing breastfeeding, several soy foods can be introduced when babies begin complementary foods around 6 months of age, whether they’re using a spoon or a baby-led weaning approach. It’s desirable to introduce soy at this time as it may help prevent the development of a soy allergy.
Feeding by Spoon
Start with a thin puree and build up the consistency as the baby adapts and learns to eat. You can always change the texture by adding more (or less) breast milk or infant formula. Try:
- Silken or soft calcium-set tofu pureed with vegetables or fruit, or mixed with fortified infant cereal
- Steamed and mashed shelled edamame pureed with fortified infant cereal or pureed vegetables
- Soy yogurt mixed with pureed fruit
Feeding with Baby-Led Weaning
When using baby-led weaning, make sure foods are well-cooked, soft, and cut into shapes that babies can easily grasp in their palms or hand. Introduce flavors by adding aromatics, herbs, and spices. Avoid salt and seasonings with sodium like soy sauce. Try:
- Firm tofu cut into long rectangular shapes, or “fingers”
- Steamed edamame crushed with a finger or fork-mashed
Finger Foods at 8 Months and Beyond
When baby demonstrates a pincer grasp (using the thumb and pointer finger to pick up small bits of food), self-feeding takes off. Sit with baby while they eat to monitor for choking and experiment with the following:
- Small, diced pieces of soft calcium-set tofu
- Steamed and mashed soybeans (you may flatten them with your finger)
- Small, diced pieces of tempeh
- Soy yogurt served in a bowl with a baby spoon (let baby self-feed)
After Baby Turns 1
As a baby grows and self-feeds, try steamed edamame, seasoned or marinated tofu stir-fried with vegetables, or a smoothie made with soy yogurt and fruit. Unflavored soymilk is appropriate to offer after a baby turns one.
- Testa, I., Salvatori, C., Di Cara, G., Latini, A., Frati, F., Troiani, S., Principi, N., & Esposito, S. (2018). Soy-Based Infant Formula: Are Phyto-Oestrogens Still in Doubt? Frontiers in Nutrition, 5, 110. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00110
- Ha, E. K., Lee, S. W., Kim, J. H., Shim, S., Kim, Y. H., Song, J. Y., Koh, H. Y., Shin, Y. H., & Han, M. Y. (2021). Neurodevelopmental Outcomes in Infants Fed with Soy Formula: A Retrospective, National Population-Based Observational Cohort Study. The Journal of Nutrition, 151(10), 3045–3052. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxab229
- Savage, J. H., Kaeding, A. J., Matsui, E. C., & Wood, R. A. (2010). The natural history of soy allergy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 125(3), 683–686. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2009.12.994