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What you should know when starting your baby on solid foods

January 27, 2014

One of my favorite milestones in a baby’s first year is introducing them to their first foods. I love the anticipation of trying new things and watching to see how they’ll react. Their excitement as they experience new flavors and textures for the first time (not to mention the hysterical facial expressions!) is entertainment at its best. And watching my oldest laugh uncontrollably at the baby’s messiness as he eats is better than watching TV.

If you’re getting ready to start your baby on solid foods or you’ve started solids but perhaps need a little guidance, here are some things to keep in mind.

Know when your baby is ready

There are a few key things to look for in determining if your baby is ready for solids. For infants who are healthy and developing normally, here are some things to consider:
  • Baby should be around 6 months of age. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively until around 6 months of age and continue to breastfeed until 12 months of age.)
  • Baby should be able to hold his head up well while sitting in a high chair
  • Has baby demonstrated an interest in food? Does he reach for your food or open his mouth when food is near?
  • Is baby big enough? Generally speaking, once infants have doubled their birth weight and weigh around 13 pounds or more, they may be ready for solid food.

Which foods first?

Starting a baby on solid foods is much easier than we often make it out to be. Many people start with rice cereal mixed with breast milk or formula, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. One benefit of beginning with rice cereal is that you can thicken or dilute it to the consistency that’s right for your baby, and sometimes that’s helpful as they are getting used to the texture.

However, you could also start with pureed fruits, vegetables or even meats. Some suggest offering vegetables before fruit out of fear that baby might reject vegetables after experiencing the sweetness of fruit. There’s no evidence to suggest that this is true. We are all born with an inherent preference for sweet foods; the order in which they’re introduced isn’t going to change that.

Most babies are born with sufficient iron reserves that will protect them from anemia for the first six months of life. After six months of age, they need to obtain iron from their diet. Infant formulas are fortified with iron, but exclusively breastfed babies will need to obtain iron through supplemental foods. Choosing foods rich in iron such as meats, iron-fortified cereals, and green vegetables will ensure that baby gets an adequate supply.

Slow and steady does the trick

Start with one food, and gradually introduce more over time. Start with one mealtime, too. You don’t need to start feeding baby three meals a day all at once. Pick the easiest time of day for you and your schedule and increase from there.

Most of your baby’s nutrition is still going to come from breastmilk or formula while they are infants. Rather than think of baby food as the source of their nutrients, think of it as a bridge. Most important at this stage is teaching them how to eat so that when their nutrients do come primarily from the food they eat, they can make that transition easily.

Which foods are off-limits?

You might be surprised by this one. Unless you have a serious family history of food allergies, milk intolerance or skin problems, there’s only one food that is truly off-limits to babies within the first year of life- honey. Raw honey has the potential to sicken babies with botulism. It’s not common but can be very serious, even life-threatening

Other foods that have previously been restricted until a child is older such as eggs, dairy products, shellfish and peanut butter do not need to be withheld. In the past, it was thought that introducing these highly allergenic foods earlier in childhood may make children more likely to develop food allergies. However, new research shows that offering these foods earlier does not make it more likely that children will develop an allergy. In fact, some research now suggests that delaying the introduction of these foods can contribute to food allergies.

One of the most important things to consider when determining whether a food is right for your child is the risk of choking. Items such as hot dogs, grapes and meats are common choking hazards. Start with pureed food and as your child progresses to finger foods, be sure that every item of food that you give to your child is cut properly in small enough pieces that they can swallow easily.

Don’t be afraid to add in a variety of meats, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and cereals. The more variety you introduce into your child’s diet, the better prepared they’ll be to embrace a healthy, balanced diet as they grow.

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