Watching your infant move from one milestone to the next is an exciting adventure. Whether they are the first babbling sounds, the first smile, or the first steps, milestones are often reached when your baby is ready. But how do you know when your baby is ready for solid foods? It isn’t as easy as offering your baby foods and seeing if she will take them or not. In fact, many healthcare professionals agree that parents can offer solid foods too early, which can eventually lead to food sensitivities, eczema, diabetes, and even other more serious health problems.
When to Feed Baby Solid Food
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants should not be fed anything other than formula or breast milk, and preferably breast milk, until they are at least 4 months of age. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found in recent studies that more than 40% of parents are feeding their babies solid foods before that age.
It is the general recommendation of pediatricians that mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first 4 to 6 months of life. Once solid foods are introduced, breast feeding should still continue as a supplement until at least 1 year of age. The nutrients found in breast milk will give your baby a large portion of what he or she needs for healthy growth. Once your child has reached 6 months of age he or she will have an increased need for iron, among other nutrients and vitamins. While breast milk is still important and needed, most healthy infants can start being introduced to solid foods.
What Exactly Are Healthy Solid Foods for My Baby?
When you hear the words “solid foods” you might think crackers and bits of apple. However, it takes a while for your infant to be ready for anything other than very soft, very mashed and pureed foods. Look for these signs that your baby who is at least 4-6 months of age is ready to start trying solid foods.
- She can sit up with minimal support or own her own.
- She tries to pick up food (like yours) and put it in her mouth.
- She has lost the tongue-thrust reflex that newborns and infants have that push the solids out of the mouths.
- She seems hungry after she has had a good breastfeeding session.
- You’ve increased her access to breast milk or formula and she still appears hungry.
How Should I Introduce Solid Foods to My Baby?
Solid foods should only be introduced to your baby after 4-6 months of age and after discussing your baby’s individual nutritional needs with your baby’s pediatrician or healthcare provider. Most doctors recommend beginning with one food, and avoiding certain foods that might increase risks for developing allergies or other problems.
Most babies without strong family histories of allergies can safely start with a diet of iron-fortified cereals. The most common cereals available for infants are rice, barley, and oatmeal, and you can find these with the infant formula. Rice cereal tends to have the fewest allergic reactions so it is a great starter cereal for babies. Mix the cereal with breast milk or formula until it is quite thin. You can warm it up slightly, too.
- Start with a ratio of 1 tablespoon of cereal to 3 tablespoons of breast milk.
- Offer small bites, never adding cereal to a bottle (use only a soft spoon).
- Gradually increase the cereal amount to a thicker formula.
- Offer the cereal for one or two meals each day.
When your child is between 6 and 8 months of age you can introduce pureed and cooked vegetables and fruits to her diet.
- Don’t add sweeteners or seasonings to the food.
- You can buy prepared baby food or thoroughly wash, prepare, and safely store your own.
- Only offer one new food each week so that you can monitor your baby for any signs of allergies or food sensitivities.
By the time your baby is one year of age you can try adding dairy items and smaller bits of food like small pieces of banana, cut up and cooked macaroni or similar shaped noodles. You can also begin offering 3 regular meals each day, each with options from the main food groups.
[ Featured Image Courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]