What's First? Cereal, Fruits, or Vegetables?

Most parents look forward to starting solid foods, because it is a fun thing to do for both them and their baby. For a dad with a breastfeeding baby, starting solids can be especially rewarding because it lets dad be a bigger part of his baby's feedings. Many parents start too early, though.

Although the general guidelines indicate that you can start solids anytime between four and six months, you can usually wait until six months. You may have a good reason to start early if your baby is no longer satisfied with just breastmilk or formula. Make sure, though, that you aren't confusing a growth spurt and a few days of increased feedings for a need to start solid foods. You should also wait until your baby has doubled his birth weight and is no longer trying to push solid foods out of his mouth with his tongue.

You don't want to start solid foods too early, but you also don't want to wait too long. If solids aren't started by the time your baby is seven to eight months old, he may be less likely to want to eat solid foods at all.

Once you know that your baby is ready for solid foods, knowing what to start with is easy. In almost all cases, the best first food to start with is an iron-fortified, single-grain rice cereal. Rice cereal is usually the best-tolerated food and the least likely to cause allergies or other problems.

The first time you start cereal, you probably will have to make it very thin, by mixing one teaspoon of cereal with four or five teaspoons of expressed breastmilk, formula, or water. And don't expect your baby to eat a lot of it. At first, he may eat just one or two teaspoons a day, and a lot of that might end up all over his face. If he doesn't want it at all, try again in a few days. It might also help to make sure he isn't overly hungry when you offer cereal, by giving it after a feeding or after at least a few minutes of breastfeeding or a few ounces of formula.

Once your baby is eating rice cereal well, you can either begin offering other cereals, such as oatmeal or barley, or just stick with rice. Some parents like to offer a variety of foods and flavors early, with the idea that it will encourage good eating habits later, while others are worried about triggering an allergic reaction if they offer too many different foods too early. Limiting your child to rice cereal is probably necessary only if your child is at risk for developing food allergies.

You can eventually mix your baby's cereal with less formula as he gets more used to the thicker texture, and work your way up to three to five tablespoons of cereal a day. Next, especially if your baby is already more than six months old, you can offer single-ingredient baby food, such as pureed vegetables and fruits. He will likely just start out with one or two tablespoons once or twice a day and then later move up to two to three tablespoons at a time.

Keep in mind that although portion sizes are usually presented in tablespoons, you will be using a smaller-sized baby spoon to feed your baby. And because the average jar of baby food is two and one-half ounces or five tablespoons (fifteen teaspoons), he may not finish the whole jar at one feeding.

Once you start solid foods, your baby might become constipated, even if he is still breastfeeding. If this happens, you can usually give your baby a few ounces of water, diluted fruit juice, or switch to a cereal with more fiber, such as barley or oatmeal.

When to Feed Solids

Knowing when to feed solid foods can be confusing. Just in the morning? Or with the standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner? And do you feed the solids before or after your baby breastfeeds or drinks his formula?

This is another one of those questions that doesn't have a definite answer. Some babies do better eating solids before anything else, when they are the most hungry. Others get frustrated taking small amounts of food off of a spoon when they are so hungry, and they do better eating solids after breastmilk or formula or at a separate time altogether.

Introducing New Foods

In addition to starting too early, the other mistake some parents make when feeding solid foods is offering too many foods too quickly. If you do this, such as by introducing bananas one day and peaches the next, and your baby has a problem, it won't be easy to know which food is causing the problem. Instead, you should offer one new food every two to three days and don't offer combination foods or mixed cereals until your baby has had all of the ingredients separately.

What's Next?

Once your baby is eating two to three meals a day, consisting of three to five tablespoons of cereal and two to three tablespoons of vegetables and fruits, he will likely be ready for some meat and protein foods. This will usually occur when your baby is about eight months old. Remember that he will still have three to five feedings of breastmilk and formula in addition to the solid foods.

You don't have to wait until your baby has teeth to start finger foods or baby foods with more texture. It is more important that your baby is sitting up well, can begin to grasp small pieces of food with his fingers and bring them to his mouth, and doesn't choke when eating them.

By eight to nine months, or once your baby is sitting up well, he should be ready for some finger foods, like Cheerios, crackers, and arrowroot cookies. At this age he is also likely to be ready for foods with more texture, like Stage 3 baby foods.

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