Introducing Solid Foods
Breast milk or iron-fortified infant formula provides all the nutrients your baby needs for the first 6 months of life. After 6 months of age, your baby requires other foods to provide more calories, protein and iron. Fortunately, most babies begin to show interest in other foods and develop the ability to eat them at around 4 to 6 months of age.
Pediatricians do not recommend starting solid foods before 4 months. Most babies are not ready to handle solid foods before this age. The introduction of solid foods before 4 to 6 months may not provide the proper balance of nutrients and may make it more likely that the infant will develop food allergies. Despite popular belief, adding cereal to the diet does not help babies sleep through the night.
Each child develops at his or her own pace. Signs that your baby may be ready to try solid foods include:
- Holding her head and neck steady for 10 to 15 minutes while sitting up with support in your lap or in an infant seat
- Putting her hands or other objects in her mouth
- Acting hungry, demanding breast or bottle more often, or taking more than 32 ounces (1 quart) of formula in 24 hours
- Showing interest in your food, watching you eat or trying to grab your food
- Beginning to awaken during the night again after she had been sleeping for longer periods
Even if your baby shows all of these signs, learning to eat solid foods will take time and practice. It also will be messy. Your baby will need a bib, and you may want to place a mat under the area where you will be feeding her.
Before you begin, discuss the introduction of solid foods with your pediatrician. Most recommend one of the iron-fortified infant cereals, such as rice, oatmeal or barley, for the first food since these types of cereals are least likely to cause allergies. Mix the cereal with breast milk or formula. Start with 1 tablespoon of cereal and enough liquid to make it thin and soupy, like breast milk or formula. Sit your baby upright in your lap or an infant seat (or a high chair if she is old enough to sit by herself). Using a rubber-coated infant spoon, put a small amount of cereal in her mouth. Most babies initially will push out the food with their tongues, a reflex (called extrusion) that protected them while they were newborns. This doesn't mean that the baby doesn't like the food. Try again with another spoonful, realizing that the tongue thrusting may last for a while. If your baby fusses or turns her head away when you try to feed her, she may not be ready for solid foods. Don't force her to eat. Wait a few days and try again. She'll eat when she is ready.
Watch for signs and symptoms of allergy, like rash, wheezing, stomachache, diarrhea, gas, fussiness or vomiting. True food allergies are rare, but if you notice any of these things and suspect an allergy, stop giving the food in question and consult your pediatrician.
Continue giving cereal, but gradually add less liquid so the baby gets used to the texture. Your pediatrician may have specific recommendations about which foods to introduce next: other cereals, strained fruits or vegetables. The order probably is not important. Introducing vegetables before fruits does not guarantee that your child will like them years from now. But keep these things in mind:
- Add only one new food at a time. Wait from five to seven days between new foods so that you have time to watch for a possible allergy. (Choose a longer interval if you have a strong family history of allergies.)
- Good starter vegetables are sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, peas and green beans.
- Good starter fruits are apples, bananas, prunes, pears, apricots and peaches.
- Commercially prepared baby foods are nutritious and safe for babies. Organic varieties are now available in most grocery stores.
- You also can make your own baby food. Homemade baby food can be cheaper than store-bought food but must be carefully prepared. The easiest to make are mashed bananas, applesauce, and mashed potatoes. Except for bananas, all fruits and vegetables should be cooked first and then pureed. Do not add salt, sugar or other seasonings. Refrigerate or freeze homemade baby food right after cooking. Do not allow it to cool first.
- In a few cases, commercially prepared baby food may be safer than homemade. Some vegetables, including carrots, beets, turnips, collard greens, spinach and broccoli, may contain high amounts of nitrates, naturally occurring chemicals that can cause anemia in babies. Baby food companies must test for nitrates in these vegetables before they can be used to make baby food.
- Use a clean spoon to put a portion of baby food into a bowl. Do not feed your baby directly from the jar of baby food unless you plan to use the entire jar at one meal. Germs from your baby's mouth will cause the remaining food in the jar to spoil.
- Heating baby foods often is unnecessary; many babies will eat food at room temperature (unopened jars of food) or refrigerator temperature (previously opened jars or homemade foods). If necessary, heat baby food by putting some in a glass container and then placing the container in a covered pan of boiling water. Avoid using microwaves; they often heat food unevenly and can destroy some of the good things in breast milk. If you do use one, stir food thoroughly. Test heated food before serving to make sure it is not too hot.
- Refrigerate opened jars of baby food.
- Wait until your infant is at least 1 year old to give foods that commonly cause allergies: egg whites, peanut butter, other nut butters, oranges, grapefruits, other citrus fruits, shrimp, lobster, other shellfish.
- Do not give honey to your infant before 1 year; honey can cause life-threatening food poisoning (botulism).
- Wait until your child is at least 3 years old to give small, round or hard foods that can cause choking, like grapes, raw carrots, popcorn, hot dogs, raisins, nuts, seeds, jelly beans, gum drops and other hard candies.