Introducing Solid Foods to Your Baby
Our daughter Kelsey loving her solid foods! She was needing a dunk in the tub after this meal!
I can remember the excitement of introducing the kids to their first tastes of “real food”. The camera was ready, they were sitting up and eager, and that first bite often resulted in the funniest look as they had that first taste.
I know that starting solid foods often comes along with many questions. What food is first? What about allergies? How much? When? And the list goes on and on. To be honest, there are not many hard and fast “rules” that come with starting your little one on solids. As with many issue of parenting, you may see many different suggestions and contradictory information which can increase your anxiety. Like many of my parenting tips, I start by saying “Relax!” There really is not a “wrong” way to do this! So get your cameras ready….the introduction to solid food is a milestone for every parent and baby, and is darn cute too!
The American Academy of Pediatrics tells parents that solid foods should be introduced between 4 and 6 months of age. At any point between 4 and 6 months, it is just fine! More important than age, we like to see that the baby is developmentally ready for solids.
Why should I wait until my baby is 4 to 6 months old?
Ideally, breast milk or formula should be the main nutrition for a baby’s first 4 to 6 months. The foods that you introduce after that are really just supplemental to the nutrients in the breast milk and formula. Solids are really an education in taste and texture for the first year of life. Breast milk or formula is the core of your baby’s diet for the first full year providing at least 75% of your baby’s calories. After a year, your baby will start to meet more and more of their nutritional needs through solid foods. By age 3, a child should only be getting about 10-20% of their calories from milk, and the rest from solid foods.
Isn’t this different from when I grew up?
Maybe. The school of thought regarding solids has changed over the years. In the 1920’s, solid foods were seldom offered to babies before a year. During the 1960’s and 1970’s solid foods often were fed to infants in the first three months. There are pictures of me being fed rice cereal at just a few weeks of age. (I AM pretty old!) Moms were often told then that the cereal would help a young infant sleep through the night. I promise it doesn’t! Slowly, we have come almost full circle with the recommendation now to wait until your baby is at least 4 months old.
Why do we wait now?
We have learned that babies are just not developmentally ready for solids. More important than actual age is your baby’s development.
- Before 4 months of age, a baby’s digestive system is too immature for solids.
- Before 4 months of age, a baby’s throat muscles are not developed for swallowing solids and there is a tongue thrust…food that is placed in the mouth is pushed back out with his tongue. Most babies no longer have this tongue thrust by 6 months.
- Before 4 months of age, your baby has no ability to tell you that he is full. Until around 4 to 5 months, babies will not turn their head to refuse food.
- Before 4 months of age, solid foods will result in your baby taking less breast milk or formula that has the correct amount of nutrients and fat for growth.
- Solids should be introduced no later than 6 months. Waiting too long for the introduction of solids can result in a delay in your baby’s eating and chewing skills, and recent studies now show that waiting longer than 6 months of age may actually increase food allergies.
What are some signs that might show my baby is developmentally ready for solids?
- Your baby is between 4 and 6 months in age.
- Your baby has at least doubled his birth weight.
- Your baby can sit with support.
- Your baby has good head and neck control and is able to turn his head to refuse food.
- Your baby’s tongue thrust reflex is diminishing.
- Your baby is breast-feeding more than 8 to 10 times a day and still wants more or your baby is taking 32 to 36 ounces of formula and wants more.
- Your baby is reaching for your food, or shows an interest when you are eating.
What food should be first?
Traditionally babies have been started on an iron fortified, easily digested cereal, like rice. This is because at 6 months of age, a baby’s natural iron stores from Mom are beginning to diminish. So, most parents start with some type of cereal, often rice. Other than the iron, there is not much nutrition in the rice cereal. I feel that a white rice cereal is not the best choice for a first food….there really is no hard and fast rule regarding what food you should start first. There are many good options such as:
- Sweet potato
- Strained meats
- Whole milk yogurt
First foods should be single ingredients. Foods should be introduced one at a time with a couple of days in between each new food so if there is any type of reaction you will know which food is likely the culprit!
Some will suggest that a parent introduce vegetables before fruits so the baby does not taste the sweet food first. I don’t feel this is necessary. Babies who are breast-fed have tasted sweet…breast milk is sweet! No matter if a parent introduces fruits or vegetables first, babies will always prefer the sweeter taste. So, it really doesn’t matter! Introduce a vegetable, then a fruit, then a meat….whatever works for you and your child!
How do I start?
- Start with 1 to 2 tablespoons of a single ingredient pureed food. It should be a liquid consistency in the beginning. Your goal is not to fill up your child’s tummy, but to expose him to the new taste and texture. Be careful not to substitute food for breast milk or formula. During the first year babies should still have 4-6 breast feedings or 24-36 ounces of formula in 24 hours. If milk consumption drops, you may be feeding too many solids.
- Use your finger as the first spoon and have your baby suck the food off your finger. You then can move to a rubber coated spoon.
- Offer the first meal when you are not in a hurry and your baby is not overly tired or too hungry. I suggest you nurse or bottle feed first, and then an hour later try the solids.
- Always offer the new food in the morning so if your baby would have any kind of reaction or upset tummy, it doesn’t happen at night!
- Watch your facial expressions. Babies learn what foods you like and don’t like! Everything should be yummy!
- If your baby makes a face or gags with the new taste or texture, it does not mean that he doesn’t like the food. It takes at least 10 to 15 introductions of a food before a baby can develop a like or dislike! We want our babies to have a wide taste pallet! Don’t limit your baby to only the foods you like, especially if you are picky!
- Watch carefully to see when your baby has had enough. A baby may turn his head, close his mouth, bat the spoon away, or become fussy. Do not force food. Remember, the majority of your baby’s calories should be coming from breast milk or formula.
- It makes no difference to a baby if he gets green beans for breakfast! There is no right or wrong food for each meal.
- Start with one meal a day and then move to twice a day. By 9 months of age, most babies are enjoying solid foods and are eating 3 meals a day.
- There should be “dinner and a show!” Babies like smiles, airplane spoons, songs, and fun with the meal. Enjoy it!
Tips for making mealtime easier?
- Show your baby how you take a bite and enjoy your food. This may encourage a reluctant eater.
- Use the upper lip to sweep food off the spoon.
- Dress yourself and your baby in clothes that won’t be hurt by a messy eater! Many times I stripped my little ones down and sometimes a bath was necessary after the meal! Babies are messy eaters….no way to get around that!
- Use suction cup bottomed bowels. Keep your baby’s hands busy, give him a spoon to hold too!
- No pressure. It is O.K. if your baby misses a meal. If your baby is fighting the solid foods, skip a meal or two and then try again. Remember, solids are mainly an education to taste and texture. Your baby should be receiving most of his nutrition from breast milk or formula.
What about water and juice?
Babies do not need any other liquid besides breast milk or formula for the first 4 to 6 months. This means no juice or water. Once solid foods are introduced, a baby should be introduced to a cup. Water may be given in a cup with a meal. Your baby will probably just take a few sips. Juice is not recommended for the first year. Juice provides very little nutritional value and has a lot of empty calories.
What about allergies?
Some health care providers may suggest waiting to start foods like eggs, fish, or peanut butter until your baby is older because of the risk of food allergies. Studies have shown that avoidance of foods does not prevent the allergy and may actually increase the incidence of food allergies. In January of 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines recommending that foods should not be avoided unless there was a significant family history of food allergies. Check with your health care provider regarding his or her suggestions about these foods.
One food that should be avoided until after the first birthday is honey. Honey carries the risk of your baby developing botulism. This does not include honey that is in foods like crackers or cereal, only pure honey.
How will I know if my baby is allergic to a food?
If your baby has vomiting, diarrhea, a new diaper rash or skin rash including hives, or develops wheezing, then this could be a food allergy. If your baby has gas, or a tummy ache it may just be a food intolerance. If you think your baby has had an allergic response or an intolerance, you should stop giving the food to your baby. You might try the food again in a couple of months if the reaction was mild and your baby may do just fine. If there was a more severe reaction like vomiting, hives, or wheezing talk to your health care provider before giving the food again.
What about homemade baby food?
Some parents choose to make baby food. To be honest, if you are waiting to start solids until your baby is 6 months old, your little one will not eat true puree food for very long. Most babies will start finger foods at about 8 months and are eating mostly table food by 11 months of age. It is not terribly difficult or time-consuming to make baby food. You may choose to make all of your own, or use some store-bought and some homemade. Your baby will also do just fine if you choose to use all store-bought. Here are some tips for making your own.
- You will need something to grind or puree food. You might use a blender, food processor or simply a fork as your little one gets used to texture.
- You will need storage containers like ice-cube trays or something similar. There are trays made just for baby food, but ice-cube trays will work just the same.
- Choose fruits and vegetables that are in season and fresh, or frozen for the best nutritional value.
- Wash your hands well.
- Wash the fruit and vegetables well!
- Bake, boil, or steam the vegetables or fruit. You then can mash or puree using water or breast milk/formula. If you boil the vegetables/fruit, use the leftover liquid to mash the food to prevent loss of nutrients in the water.
- Peel and pit fruits and vegetables and strain if necessary.
- You can use seasoning! Babies like flavor! Try to stay away from salt.
- Remove skin and trim fat from meat. You can puree cooked meat, or grind it, or simply cut it up into very small pieces for an older baby.
- Freeze the food in ice-cube trays. Remove the cubes of food and store in labeled freezer bags. One cube is about 1 ounce of food.
- When ready, thaw the amount you will use. If your baby does not eat all the food prepared in the dish, it must be thrown out, it cannot be saved.
- Use caution heating with a microwave. Microwaves can cause hot spots..be sure to stir and test the food.
There are many books with tips and recipes for making baby food. Some of my favorites include:
Super Baby Food By: RuthYaron
Baby Bites By: Bridget Swinney
Top 100 Baby Purees: 100 Quick and Easy Meals for a Healthy and Happy Baby By: Annabel Karmel
So, the introduction of solids really should not make you anxious, it should be exciting and fun! Enjoy this milestone for you and your baby! Your baby’s first taste of solid food only happens once! Don’t over think the process. Get ready for dinner and a show!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
- Posted in: Growth and Development ♦ Health ♦ Nutrition ♦ Uncategorized
- Tagged: baby food, enjoying parenting, food allergies, fresh fruits and vegetables, home made baby food, infant, infant cereal, introduction of solid foods, juice, nutrition, obesity, sippy cup, toddler, toddler foods, toddler snacks