When should you introduce your baby to solid foods? Nutrition experts maintain that solid food should rarely be started before the fourth month. Many pediatricians go even further and suggest waiting until your baby is at least 6 months old. In fact, in 1997 the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its recommendations and now advocates exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of your baby’s life.
There are plenty of good reasons to wait until your baby reaches the half-year mark. Breast milk and formula are still easiest for your baby to digest, providing all the calories and nutrients he needs during this six-month period. Also, the chances of developing allergies are greatest during infancy, so feeding your baby a diet of breast milk or formula for as long as possible reduces the risk of introducing allergens. As your baby’s digestive system matures, he will be better able to handle different foods without an allergic reaction.
There is another very practical reason for waiting until your baby is developmentally ready for solid foods: It will shorten the transition time between when you have to spoon-feed your baby and he begins feeding himself.
Is your baby ready?
Introducing solids should be coordinated with when he is developmentally ready. Look for the following cues. Your baby:
- Has head control. It’s important that your baby be able to maintain a steady, upright position in order to eat solids from a spoon.
- Sits well when supported. You may have to support him at first — a highchair can be pulled into action a bit later when he’s able to sit up all by himself.
- Makes chewing motions. Your baby should be able to move food to the back of his mouth and swallow. As your baby learns to swallow efficiently you may notice his drooling decrease.
- Shows significant weight gain.Most babies are ready to eat solids when they’ve doubled their birth weight, which may take place before or after their sixth month.
- Displays curiosity about what you’re eating. Your baby begins eyeing your steak or reaches for your forkful of mashed potatoes as it travels from plate to mouth.
How to begin introducing solid food
Let him first nurse or bottle-feed. After he’s satisfied, give him about one or two tablespoons of dry cereal, mixed with enough formula or breast milk to make a soupy solution. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends iron-enriched infant rice cereal.) Give this to your baby on a rubber-tipped spoon once a day. It doesn’t need to be the morning feeding; pick a time that’s convenient for both you and baby.
At first, your baby will seem to eat very little cereal, and it may take a while to get even that small amount into him. Be patient with your little one and remember he’s learning new eating skills.
When your baby is eating two to three tablespoons of cereal a day, add another cereal feeding. As he begins to eat and develops more of a side-to-side grinding motion, add a little less liquid so the texture becomes thicker. This allows your baby to work on chewing (gumming) and swallowing. Your baby should be able to eat about a half cup of cereal a day before you add any other solid foods.
Your baby’s appetite will vary from one feeding to the next, so watch for cues that he’s full. A baby who refuses to open up for the next bite, turns away or starts playing with his food is probably full.
Do you still need to breast-feed?
Yes. Breast milk is designed to be the perfect food for your baby’s first year. Both breast milk and formula provide important vitamins, iron and protein in an easy-to-digest form. Even though solid foods will eventually replace some of your baby’s feedings, they can’t nutritionally replace all of the nutrients that breast milk or formula provides during his first 12 months.
Help develop healthy eating habits
You can help your baby learn to eat right by following these simple rules:
- Offer a variety of foods.
- Avoid feeding your baby too much.
- Give your baby a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Use sweets, salts and fats in moderation.
- Don’t bribe or reward your child with food. Instead, offer him plenty of hugs, kisses and attention.
Introducing other solid foods
Solid foods should be introduced slowly, one at a time. Your baby needs time to get used to each new taste and texture. Also, a methodical introduction will allow you to watch for signs of an allergic reaction, such as diarrhea , tummy aches or rashes. If your baby is interested, add one new food every three to five days. Some pediatricians recommend starting with yellow fruits and vegetables, which are easiest for babies to digest. Others advise beginning with green veggies, as babies can sometimes get stuck on the sweeter taste of fruits and yellow vegetables and won’t give peas and beans a fighting chance.
Start by offering your baby a few tablespoons of vegetables or fruit in the same meal as a cereal feeding. Good foods to debut with: sweet potatoes, squash, applesauce, bananas, carrots, peaches and pears. All food should be strained or mushy for a 6-month-old, because at this age babies eat by smushing food against the tops of their mouths and then swallowing.
If you get a negative reaction from your baby, offer the food again about seven to 10 days later. He may always turn up his nose at some foods, but you should continue to offer them in hopes that one day he’ll find them more appealing.
By the time your baby is 6 to 7 months old, he should be eating solid foods three times a day. A typical day’s diet might consist of:
- Breast milk or iron-fortified formula. Small amounts of juice (except for citrus juices).
- Iron-fortified cereal.
- Yellow and green vegetables.
- Small amounts of meats, poultry, yogurt, egg yolk, cottage cheese.
Some general guidelines apply:
- Introduce each new food no sooner than three to five days after the preceding new solid food.
- Do not feed your baby raw honey before age 1 because it carries a risk of infant botulism.
- Do not introduce the most commonly allergenic foods ” cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, other nuts, soy, fish and shellfish ” until he is a year old.
- Don’t feed your baby beets, turnips or dark green kohl vegetables such as kale and broccoli until after he’s a year old; they have too many nitrates for younger children.
- Depending on your infant’s diet, vitamin and/or fluoride drops may be recommended.
Moving on to finger foods
As your baby grows more experienced, you can increase the thickness of the foods offered to include chunkier strained and mashed foods. At about 8 months, he’s ready for finger foods cut into safe, tiny bite-size bits. Some ideal first finger foods that can be easily gummed and digested are whole-wheat bagels and breads, ripe bananas and cantaloupe, tender cooked carrots and sweet potatoes and natural soft cheeses, and whole-grain cereals (Cheerios are universally popular) and pastas.
Special equipment for feeding
There’s a dazzling array of feeding-related items you can buy, but none are essential. Nonetheless, there are a few that can make mealtime easier. A rubber-tipped spoon is important to protect your baby’s sensitive gums, and a plastic dish with suction cups can keep Junior’s meal on the tray table. To protect your floor, try a splat mat; it will make cleanup much simpler.
Where to feed the baby
Once your child is old enough to sit up on his own, feed him in a highchair or feeding chair. Handing finger foods to a crawler on the move can result in choking and leave a trail of smushed bananas across your carpet. And if a child learns to associate eating with mealtime and the dinner table, he’s less likely to develop the poor eating habits (constant snacking, eating in front of the television and so on) that contribute to obesity.
Note: You’ll find when you add solid foods to your baby’s diet that his stools change color and odor. This is normal. Rice cereal, bananas and applesauce may be constipating. If your baby’s stools are so firm that they seem to be giving him pain, then switch from those foods to other fruits and vegetables and oatmeal or barley cereal.