Changing your baby’s food from breast milk or formula to solid foods is an exciting step in their development. Seeing them start to explore new things to eat can be cute and fun – but also takes some work and planning.
Matthew Stevens, MD, a pediatrician with Rochester Regional Health at Genesee Pediatrics, explores the process of introducing solid foods.
Before you jump straight into giving your baby solid foods, there are a few factors to consider.
The World Health Organization and most pediatricians agree that introducing solid foods should begin when a child is about six months old.
Your child is ready for foods when they reach certain milestones. These milestones generally include being able to swallow without a risk of choking, good head/neck control, and sitting up alone or with support.
If you have questions about your baby’s development, bring them up in conversation with your pediatrician, who can help you know when your baby is ready for solids.
There are two main schools of thought for how to begin introducing solid foods. The decision is usually based on the method the parent and pediatrician feels most comfortable using.
One method is using spoon-fed purees; the other is referred to as baby-led weaning.
Starting with spoon-fed purees is the more traditional process that people tend to think of when it comes to “baby’s first food”, with images of pureed carrots and peas in small jars. This approach is more adult-led as opposed to baby-led.
When you first start with these foods, include high-iron foods such as infant cereal or oatmeal. Choose a baby food with a single fruit or vegetable such as carrots or apples to avoid complex flavors. Give it to them using a small, shallow spoon so they have an easier time getting puree in their mouth.
Start with a few spoonfuls a few times each day, then gradually increase the amount as time goes on. Introduce a new flavor every 3-4 days to try something new.
If your baby turns their head away or pushes back, don’t force the food on them.
“If we continue to try to push the food, we risk having a baby who is very stressed when eating and not looking forward to their meals,” Dr. Stevens said. “Our goal is to make meal time as happy and stress free as possible.”
Baby-led weaning is a relatively new method of bringing solid foods into an infant’s diet that is being adopted by more new parents. This incorporates larger, soft solid foods into their eating process.
“You want to have the foods be large enough so they can’t choke on it if they put it all in their mouth, but you also want to have it soft enough so that if they want to mush it all up in their hands, they can just put it all in their mouth,” Dr. Stevens said.
A few different types of starter solid foods might include:
When feeding your baby these foods, have them sit upright in a high chair. Try to feed them at your usual meal times so it becomes routine. Give the foods to your child as they are; avoid adding salt or sugar to enhance the taste. Research shows it can take as many as 15 times of a child being exposed to a new food for them to try it.
Some parents or caregivers integrate the two methods of solid food feeding. This can be done by slowly tapering the number of spoon feedings and transitioning to the previously mentioned starter foods over a week or two.
Babies can be introduced to some finger foods around the age of 8-12 months. Small pieces of soft fruits and vegetables, cheese, cooked pasta, and wet Cheerios are some examples of finger foods that are good to introduce.
Around the age of 15 months, parents or caregivers can begin encouraging their child to use their own hands when it comes to using utensils. This is when it becomes developmentally appropriate.
It is important for parents to remember that in early infancy, the majority of nutrients come from formula or breastmilk. The introduction of foods is more for the development of oromotor skills.
In the early days of solid foods, hard foods should be avoided. Some of these include nuts, harder crackers, or hard candies. All of these are serious choking hazards for babies.
Other foods or drinks to avoid before their first birthday include:
Experts agree that smooth peanut butter can be introduced earlier on – starting as early as 6 months.
“We like to introduce higher-risk allergy foods earlier on because studies have shown that children who are introduced to peanut butter early in life have a lower risk of developing a peanut allergy,” Dr. Stevens said.
The one exception to this is an infant with a history of severe eczema. This should be brought up with the child’s pediatrician before they are given any food containing peanuts, as they may need further evaluation.
Any risk for an infant to experience an anaphylactic reaction to a food is exceedingly rare. If your infant develops a rash after eating a specific food, call their pediatrician. If they become short of breath, call 911.
As your baby switches from solely breastmilk or formula to solid foods, the most obvious changes will be in their stool.
Before changing to solid foods, stool is usually looser. For formula-fed babies, it is thinner; for breastfed babies, it is yellow and thinner.
Once an infant begins to eat more solid foods, their stooling will happen less frequently due to the amount of time it takes for the food to be processed by the body. It will also be thicker and browner.
Signs of trouble with solid foods can appear in stool with the following traits:
“Any of these might be a sign of constipation, which would potentially need to be explored further with the baby’s pediatrician,” Dr. Stevens said.
Overall, when you are getting ready to introduce solid foods, families are encouraged to talk with their pediatricians about options and discuss what may work best for their family.
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