Starting Baby on Solid Foods
When you start your baby on solid foods, you begin lifelong eating habits that will contribute to his overall health throughout life. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding your child only breast milk or formula for the first four to six months of life. After that, a combination of solid food and breast milk or formula should be used until about one year of age. After six months of age, your newborn's nutritional needs begin to increase, until they are more than breast milk or formula can properly supply.
Do not start solid foods too early in your child's diet. The intestinal tract and immune systems are not yet fully developed, so introducing solid foods too early can cause babies to develop food allergies. The other danger of feeding too early is a baby's inability to chew or swallow properly before four to six months of age.
When and How to Start
Even though you may choose to breastfeed past four to six months, at this age your baby should be ready to add some solid foods. By this age babies need more calories and iron than breast milk or formula alone can supply. Although most babies are generally ready to start solid foods between four and six months, this is only a point of reference. All babies are different, and they need to be ready both physically and developmentally to start on solid foods. Offering your baby solids too early can lead to some frustrating feeding times for both the parents and the infant. The following may be clues that your baby is ready:
Your baby weighs at least 13 pounds and has doubled his birth weight.
Your baby can sit with a little support as well as somewhat control his head.
Your baby seems to still be hungry after eight to ten feedings of breast milk, or he can drink more than 32 ounces of formula a day.
Your baby seems to show some interest in foods that you are eating.
Your baby can move foods from the front to the back of his mouth. When younger than four months or not ready, babies will push foods out of their mouths with their tongues. As they develop, the tongue becomes more coordinated and can move back and forth, which helps babies to eat from a spoon.
Never force your baby to start solids. If you try and she does not seem interested, wait a few weeks and try again. Remember that all babies are different and will begin at their own pace.
The Four- to Six-Month Period
The solid food most recommended for feeding your child in the beginning is an iron-fortified rice cereal. Your baby's first cereal feeding should be a thin mixture. Start by mixing about one tablespoon of rice cereal with breast milk or formula (usually one part cereal to four parts liquid). Read the suggested mixing directions on the box for the product you choose, and do not add anything extra such as sugar or honey.
Use a baby-feeding spoon with a rubber tip or simply your finger to feed. Start by offering the cereal mixture once a day, and as your baby tolerates it, increase to two to three times a day. Keep in mind that she probably won't eat too much at one time. Her tummy is small and can only tolerate small portions. Most of her nutrition will still come from breast milk or formula at this point. As your baby begins to become used to have semisolid food in her mouth, you can add a little less liquid to make it a bit thicker. This will help her to work on chewing and swallowing.
After your baby has eaten rice cereal for several days with no signs of intolerance or allergies, you can offer barley or oat cereal if you choose. However, do not offer wheat cereal until after twelve months of age because some infants are sensitive or allergic to wheat before this age.
At about five to six months, after cereal has passed the test, you can start to offer single pureed or strained fruits and vegetables in addition to breast milk or formula and iron-fortified cereal. It may be beneficial to start with vegetables because once your baby learns to like the sweet taste of fruit, you may have a hard time getting him to eat vegetables. Good fruits and vegetables to start with include sweet potatoes, squash, applesauce, bananas, carrots, peaches, and pears. All foods at this point should be mushy or strained. As your baby is offered more foods, he will take less breast milk or formula. However, these feeding should still be continued and should remain the mainstay of his diet for the first year.
Introduce only one new food at a time over a three- to five-day period when starting your baby on solid foods. This will help rule out food allergies and intolerances. Once you introduce a food and you are sure your baby tolerates it with no adverse reaction such as skin rashes, wheezing, diarrhea, or stomachaches, move on to another new food. As your baby gets older and is introduced to a wider variety of foods, keep an eye on highly allergenic foods such as wheat, egg whites, cow's milk, peanuts, fish, soy, and dairy foods.
Children under twelve months of age should avoid eating honey because it can cause infant botulism.
The Six- to Nine-Month Period
By six months of age, your baby's digestive tract is more mature, and she has mastered the art of chewing and swallowing. At this stage you can begin introducing all kinds of strained and mashed food along with the standard breast milk or formula and iron-fortified cereal. In addition to fruits and vegetables, you can try other strained or puréed foods such as plain meats and poultry, egg yolks (continue to avoid egg whites), sweet potatoes, squash, mashed beans, and unsweetened fruit juices (vitamin C-fortified) such as apple or pear in a sippy cup (not a bottle). As her feeding skills increase and she gets more teeth, she can move on to minced and finely chopped foods and soft foods. Avoid combination meat-and-vegetable dinners at this time.
Around seven months, your baby will want to begin feeding himself. Nature will take its course — let him begin with foods such as unsweetened dry cereal, dry toast, crackers, or teething biscuits. Between six and nine months, most babies will become interested in drinking from a cup. You can offer juice, water, or formula at this time in a child spill-proof cup. Juice is not necessary but can provide a little variety.
Nine to Twelve Months
Between nine and twelve months, your baby will be even more interested in feeding herself and be ready for soft table foods as well as a wider variety of finger foods. Keep in mind that you should still be feeding breast milk or formula along with these foods. By the end of the first year, solid food will make up about 50 percent of your baby's intake.
Begin with soft, bite-sized pieces of food that she can pick up and eat such as cooked vegetables, mashed potatoes, ripened soft fruit without peels or seeds, soft breads, lean tender meats, and noodles. You can also begin using junior jar foods. As her breast milk and formula intake begins to decrease, you can offer yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese. Increase the amount of food you are feeding your baby according to her appetite. It is important to offer a variety of foods to encourage good eating habits later in life.