Is your baby suddenly interested in what you're eating? 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. However, by ages 4 months to 6 months, most babies are ready to begin eating solid foods as a complement to breast-feeding or formula-feeding. It's during this time that babies typically stop using their tongues to push food out of their mouths and begin to develop the coordination to move solid food from the front of the mouth to the back for swallowing.
In addition to age, look for other signs that your baby is ready for solid foods. For example:
- Can your baby hold his or her head in a steady, upright position?
- Can your baby sit with support?
- Is your baby mouthing his or her hands or toys?
- 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, 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 of a single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal with 4 tablespoons (60 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 and gradually increase the amount you offer. For variety, you might offer single-grain oatmeal or barley cereals.
- Add pureed meat, vegetables and fruits. Once your baby masters cereal, gradually introduce pureed meat, vegetables and fruits. Offer single-ingredient foods that contain no sugar or salt, 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. After introducing your baby to a variety of single-ingredient foods, you can begin to offer them in combination.
- 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, vegetables, pasta, cheese, well-cooked meat, baby crackers and dry cereal. As your baby approaches his or her first birthday, you might offer your baby three meals a day — as well as snacks — with mashed or chopped versions of whatever the rest of the family is eating.
What about food allergies?
To help prevent food allergies, parents were once told to avoid feeding young children highly allergenic foods such as eggs, fish, peanuts and tree nuts. Today, however, research suggests 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 if any close relatives have a food allergy. You might 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.
Is juice OK?
Juice isn't a necessary part of a baby's diet, and it's not as valuable as the original fruit itself. Too much juice might 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 can lead to tooth decay.
If you choose to offer juice, wait until your baby is at least 6 months or older. Also, make sure the juice is pasteurized, mild, 100 percent fruit juice. Limit the amount your baby drinks to 4 to 6 ounces (118 to 177 milliliters) a day — about one food serving of fruit — and serve it in a cup.
Know what's off-limits
Don't offer cow's milk or honey before age 1. Cow's milk doesn't meet an infant's nutritional needs — it isn't a good source of iron — and can increase the risk of iron deficiency. Honey might contain spores that can cause a serious illness known as infant botulism.
To prevent choking, stick to foods that are soft, broken down into small pieces and easy to swallow. As your baby progresses in eating solid foods, don't offer hot dogs, chunks of meat or cheese, grapes, raw vegetables or fruit chunks, unless they're cut up into small pieces. Also, don't give babies hard foods, such as seeds, nuts, popcorn and hard candy that can't be changed to make them safe options. Other high-risk foods include peanut butter and marshmallows.
If you offer solids to your baby before age 4 months, avoid offering home-prepared spinach, beets, green beans, squash and carrots, which might contain high levels of potentially harmful compounds (nitrites) from soil. If your drinking water comes from a private well, consider having it checked for nitrates.
Keep in mind that citrus can also cause some infants to develop a rash.
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 might 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 or mat 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. Around age 9 months, your baby might be able to drink from a cup on his or her own.
- Dish individual servings. Your baby might eat just a few spoonfuls of food at a time. If you feed your baby directly from a jar or container, saliva on the spoon can quickly spoil any leftovers. Instead, place servings in a dish. Opened jars of baby food can be safely refrigerated for up to three days.
- Avoid power struggles. If your baby turns away from a new 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 might 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.