Welcome to that confusing and exciting time when parents are trying to introduce their babies to solid foods. There are a lot of old recommendations that are no longer valid and a lot of misinformation in the world.
Parents should begin to introduce their little ones to solid foods between 4-6 months and continue with breast milk or formula for the first year of life. The solid foods should be thought of as an addition to the breast milk or formula and not a replacement of it. Changing the diet of a baby is tricky and takes time. It will not happen overnight.
How do you know if your baby is ready to try solid foods? Sitting up with help, opening mouth when food is near, making chewing motions, moving food into his throat are all indications that it may be time to try solid foods. Your baby should also be double his birthweight and should be able to turn his head.
Where to Begin with Solid Foods?
Now your baby is ready. Where do you start? Most start with a single grain cereal. Make sure it is iron fortified and is made for babies. The single grain option is recommended to make identifying certain allergies and sensitivities easier. And why not mix it with the breast milk or formula? Mixing makes it easier for the baby to get used to and makes the texture more familiar, easing the transition.
Cooked and pureed fruits and vegetables are beginner foods also. Don’t listen to the old adage about feeding the vegetables before the fruits. The thinking used to be that the baby would automatically prefer the fruits due to the sweetness and then would not consume the vegetables. While babies do like sweet foods, there is no evidence to support that the order of introduction will make any difference in this preference.
When introducing new foods to your baby, make sure to introduce one at a time. You want to be sure the child does not have any adverse reactions, but you also want to see if he liked the new food or not. Focus on one food for several days before moving onto the next. He didn’t like those carrots? Try again in a few days, and keep trying. Not everything is going to be liked right away. These early eating habits will influence his eating habits for the rest of his life. Don’t start it by dismissing foods easily.
Potential Dangers of New Foods
There are certainly dangers with trying new foods. Uncooked foods and foods that are not stored properly may have bacteria that your baby’s immune system can’t fight off. Finger foods can be started at about 9 months old, but avoid pieces that are hard or that are too big. Grapes, hotdogs, raisins, hard cheeses, hard candy, chips, and raw vegetables can be choking hazards or irritate your baby’s throat.
Cow’s milk should be avoided for the first year of life. Babies generally have a hard time digesting it. Honey should be avoided for at least the first year of life, perhaps the first two years. Honey can contain spores of a bacteria that can lead to botulism, a potentially deadly disease that can paralyze the body. This isn’t an issue that adults or older children with normally functioning immune systems need to worry about. But the babies’ bodies are still susceptible.
The other major issue with food is allergies. Any food is capable of triggering an allergic response. However, some are more common than others. Foods to pay special attention to are milk (primarily cow’s milk), eggs, soy, wheat, shellfish, fish, tree nuts, and peanuts. Read your food labels to see if these are present. If your baby has hives, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling of the lips, tongue, or face, or difficulty breathing after consuming something, then it may be an allergic reaction and you should seek medical attention.
It used to be believed that avoiding certain foods during pregnancy or waiting to introduce certain foods until later would help prevent allergies. However, there is no scientific data to support this. In fact, recent studies show that feeding small amounts of potential allergen triggers may help the body adjust to the new food and avoid developing allergies to it. But if your baby has eczema or if there is a history of food allergies in the family, the baby may be at greater risk to develop allergies than babies that do not have eczema or a family history.
While there are many things to be careful of, introducing new foods to your baby should be an exciting time. After all, the foods he eats today will help prepare him for a healthy lifestyle in the future. So introduce a variety of new foods, but make sure they are properly made and stored to kill off potential bacteria, introduce new foods one at a time, be mindful of the size of the pieces, and don’t give up at the first sign of dislike.