Solid foods: How to get your baby started

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Solid foods: How to get your baby started

Does your baby suddenly seem interested in what you're eating? Does your baby open his or her mouth if you offer a spoon? It might be time to start introducing solid foods.

Is your baby ready for solid foods?

Breast milk or formula is the only food your newborn needs. Within four to six months, however, your baby will begin to develop the coordination to move solid food from the front of the mouth to the back for swallowing. At the same time, your baby's head control will improve and he or she will learn to sit with support — essential skills for eating solid foods.

Most babies are ready to begin eating solid foods as a complement to breast-feeding or formula-feeding between ages 4 months and 6 months. If you're not sure whether your baby is ready, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can your baby hold his or her head in a steady, upright position?
  • Can your baby sit with support?
  • Is your baby interested in what you're eating?

If you answer yes to these questions and you have the OK from your baby's doctor or dietitian, you can begin supplementing your baby's liquid diet.

What to serve when

Continue feeding your baby breast milk or formula as usual. Then:

  • Start with baby cereal. Mix 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) of a single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal with 4 to 5 tablespoons (60 to 75 milliliters) of breast milk or formula. Many parents start with rice cereal. Even if the cereal barely thickens the liquid, resist the temptation to serve it from a bottle. Instead, help your baby sit upright and offer the cereal with a small spoon once or twice a day. Once your baby gets the hang of swallowing runny cereal, mix it with less liquid. For variety, you might offer single-grain oatmeal or barley cereals. Keep in mind that some babies eat cereal with gusto right from the start. Others are less enthusiastic. Be patient and keep trying.
  • Add pureed meat, vegetables and fruits. Once your baby masters cereal, gradually introduce pureed meat, vegetables and fruits. Offer single-ingredient foods at first, and wait three to five days between each new food. If your baby has a reaction to a particular food — such as diarrhea, rash or vomiting — you'll know the culprit.
  • Offer finely chopped finger foods. By ages 8 months to 10 months, most babies can handle small portions of finely chopped finger foods, such as soft fruits, well-cooked pasta, cheese, graham crackers and ground meat. As your baby approaches his or her first birthday, mashed or chopped versions of whatever the rest of the family is eating will become your baby's main fare. Continue to offer breast milk or formula with and between meals.

To help prevent food allergies, parents were once told to avoid feeding young children eggs, fish and peanut butter. Today, however, researchers say there's no convincing evidence that avoiding these foods during early childhood will help prevent food allergies. Still, it's a good idea to check with your baby's doctor or dietitian if any close relatives have a food allergy. You may consider giving your child his or her first taste of a highly allergenic food at home — rather than at a restaurant — with an oral antihistamine available, just in case.

What about juice?

You can offer mild, 100 percent fruit juices when your baby is age 6 months or older. Juice isn't a necessary part of a baby's diet, however, and it's not as valuable as the original fruit itself. If you offer juice to your baby, make sure it's pasteurized. Limit the amount your baby drinks to 4 to 6 ounces (118 to 177 milliliters) a day, and serve it in a cup. Too much juice may contribute to weight problems and diarrhea, as well as thwart your baby's appetite for more nutritious solid foods. In addition, sipping juice throughout the day or while falling asleep may lead to tooth decay.

Know what's off-limits

Don't offer cow's milk, citrus, honey or corn syrup before age 1. Cow's milk doesn't meet an infant's nutritional needs — it isn't a good source of iron and, for infants, it can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Citrus can cause a painful diaper rash, and honey and corn syrup may contain spores that can cause a serious illness known as infant botulism.

Don't offer your baby foods that pose a choking hazard, such as:

  • Small, slippery foods, such as whole grapes, hot dogs and hard candy
  • Dry foods that are hard to chew, such as popcorn, raw carrots and nuts
  • Sticky or tough foods, such as peanut butter and large pieces of meat

For babies younger than age 4 months, also avoid home-prepared or canned spinach, beets, turnips and collard greens, which may contain high levels of potentially harmful compounds from soil (nitrates). If your drinking water comes from a private well, consider having it checked for nitrates.

Make meals manageable

When your baby begins eating solid food, mealtime is sure to become an adventure. Here's help making it more enjoyable — for both you and your baby.

  • Stay seated. At first, you may feed your baby in an infant seat or propped on your lap. As soon as your baby can sit easily without support, use a highchair with a broad, stable base. Buckle the safety straps, and keep other children from climbing or hanging on to the highchair.
  • Encourage exploration. Your baby is likely to play with his or her food between bites. Although it's messy, hands-on fun helps fuel your baby's development. Place a dropcloth on the floor so you won't worry about falling food.
  • Introduce utensils. Offer your baby a spoon to hold while you feed him or her with another spoon. As your baby's dexterity improves, encourage your baby to dip the spoon in food and bring it to his or her mouth.
  • Offer a cup. Feeding your baby breast milk or formula from a cup at mealtime can help pave the way for weaning from a bottle. By age 9 months, your baby may be able to drink from a cup on his or her own.
  • Dish individual servings. Your baby may eat just a few spoonfuls of food at a time. If you feed your baby directly from a jar or container, bacteria and saliva from the spoon can quickly spoil any leftovers. Instead, place 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) of food in a dish. The same goes for finger foods. If your baby finishes the first serving, offer another.
  • Avoid power struggles. If your baby turns away from a certain food, don't push. Simply try again another time. And again. And again. Repeated exposure can help ensure variety in your baby's diet.
  • Know when to call it quits. When your baby has had enough to eat, he or she may turn away from the spoon, lean backward, or refuse to open his or her mouth. Don't force extra bites. As long as your baby's growth is on target, you can be confident that he or she is getting enough to eat.

Enjoy your baby's sloppy tray, gooey hands and sticky face. You're building the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Last Updated: 2011-06-17
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