The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents offer their baby solid foods somewhere between 4 to 6 months of age. Some babies are ready sooner than others but don’t wait much longer than 6 months or you may have trouble getting your baby to accept solid foods. Even after you begin solid foods, continue giving your baby breast milk or his formula.
Signs That Your Baby is Ready for Solid Foods
Even though your baby cannot speak, by now you know how your baby “talks” to you. This will help you recognize the clues when he is ready to try solid foods. Don’t be in a hurry for your baby to start eating. Some babies like to take their time.
Forcing your baby to try new foods can be stressful for both of you. Just relax and allow your baby to develop his own eating habits and patterns. That way, mealtime will be a learning experience you both look forward to.
Until your baby is 3 to 4 months old, the “extrusion reflex” will cause him to push his tongue out when anything other than liquid is put in his mouth.
When your baby is about 5 to 6 months old, he may start crying more often between feedings. This may be a sign that his formula or breast milk isn’t satisfying his hunger. At this age, he may also begin to express his desire for food. When you’re eating, you may notice him watching you eat, leaning forward, drooling, or even opening his mouth like a hungry little bird. If you wait until he expresses his desire for food, it will be much easier for both of you. Later, the switch from baby food to family food will be much easier. When both of you are ready, there are a few basic points to keep in mind.
1. Start with simple, basic foods
Rice cereal is most often recommended as the first solid food for babies. Most babies are not allergic to rice cereal and it is free of gluten. Baby cereals provide many needed vitamins and minerals. Start with a thin, watery mixture of 1 teaspoon of cereal with 4 to 5 teaspoons of warm breast milk, formula, or water. As your baby’s eating skills get better, you can make the mixture a little thicker.
At 6 months, your baby will need to replace his iron stores. A single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal is your best choice to replace needed iron. Baby cereal also provides calcium and B vitamins. Some cereals are high in protein. However, if your baby is growing normally, he does not need added protein.
Here are some guidelines for what babies eat. A more complete table is on the back of this book.
• 4 to 8 months—Begin iron-fortified rice cereal
• 6 to 8 months—Introduce fruits, other cereals, vegetables, and diluted non-citrus juices
• 7 to 10 months—Offer strained or mashed fruits and vegetables like bananas and applesauce; egg yolk; and some textured table foods like finely cut and chopped meat or poultry
• 9 to 12 months —Offer soft combination foods such as casseroles, macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti; as well as yogurt, cheese, and beans Breast milk or formula prescribed by your pediatrician is the only suitable milk for the first year. Regular cow’s milk doesn’t have enough iron and has more salt and protein than babies need. Don’t feed your baby low fat or skim milk until after he is 2 years old.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics
2. Offer small servings
For the first few times, about 1 to 2 teaspoons of cereal is all your baby will want. Even at 6 months, he may eat only 3 to 4 tablespoons. Don’t force him to eat more or he may not want the breast milk or formula he needs. In the beginning, cereal is just an addition to his breast milk or formula, not a replacement. Most of his calories and nutrition should still come from breast milk or formula.
It’s important not to count calories at this young age. Let your baby decide how much food he needs. How many calories your baby needs depends on how fast he’s growing and how active he is. From 6 months to 1 year, babies need about 50 calories per pound, or 850 calories a day.
Prepare and warm as much food as you think your baby will eat. Warm food to body temperature. Always test the temperature of the food before you offer it to your baby. It’s best to use a baby dish that has a warmer. If you heat your baby’s food in a microwave, be very, very careful. Microwaves can cause “hot spots” in food, so stir the food well after heating. Throw out whatever he doesn’t eat from his dish. Putting leftovers back in the jar gives germs a place to grow. Also, your baby’s saliva will start to break down or “digest” the food in the jar.
These are guidelines for how much a 12-month-old child should eat each day:
• Milk—16 to 24 ounces
• Fruits and Vegetables—4 to 8 tablespoons
• Breads and Cereals—4 servings (a serving is 1/4 slice of bread, 2 table-spoons of rice, potatoes, pasta, etc.)
• Meat, poultry, fish, eggs—2 servings of about 1/2 ounce or 1 tablespoon each
3. Offer 1 new food at a time
Too many new tastes and textures can be too much for a small baby. To help him ease into eating solid foods, begin with one new food every 2 to 3 days. This will give him time to get used to the new tastes and textures and decide which ones he likes. Adding one new food every 2 to 3 days gives you time to notice if your baby has an allergy or intolerance to that food. Don’t offer your baby a new food when he isn’t feeling well, begins taking a new medicine, or has just been immunized. That way, if he has a reaction, you will know that it wasn’t caused by the new food.
4. Learn the signals
Watching your baby’s face while he’s eating may give you mixed clues as to whether or not he likes what he’s eating. Frowns or puckered-up faces may just mean that the taste or texture is new to him. If he opens his mouth when you offer him more, he probably likes it. If he turns his head when you offer it again, he probably doesn’t like it. Offer that food to him again in a few weeks, he may change his mind.
Don’t be surprised if he pushes the food back out with his tongue. That’s normal. Until he gets the hang of eating solid foods, try thinning foods with breast milk or formula. Many babies like plastic or rubber coated spoons — metal doesn’t taste very good! Remember, opening his mouth to receive food, and tastes and textures are new to him. But he’ll catch on quickly.
If your baby throws his head back, turns his head, or won’t open his mouth when you offer the spoon, he has probably had enough. “Enough” can change from one meal to the next. Don’t be surprised if he eats until you think he will pop at one meal, and then picks at the next meal. There are no rules, so let him eat as little or as much as he wants. Forcing him to eat more than he wants may cause him to gag or hold food in his cheeks without swallowing. Just follow his clues about how much is enough.
5. Feed him safely
It will be much easier and safer for your baby if you feed him while he is in an upright position. Use rolled up towels or small blankets to support him in his high chair. Don’t feed him while he’s lying down or reclining in an infant carrier or car seat. It is harder for him to swallow and easier for him to choke while he’s reclining. Also, it is harder for him to see the spoon coming toward his mouth when he’s lying down or reclining.
High Chairs. Once your baby can sit up without support, about 6 months, he is ready for a high chair. To use a high chair safely:
• choose a chair that has a stable base so it won’t tip over easily
• use the safety straps every time you put your baby in the chair
• don’t let other children pull or hang on the chair while your baby is in it
• keep the high chair away from counters, tables, or anything he can pull or push against; he could tip himself over
• make sure the tray-table is locked so he doesn’t pitch forward and fall out
• when eating in restaurants, carefully check the high chair to make sure it is safe for your baby
• watch for sharp edges or small parts that come off
More About Starting Your Baby on Solids Foods
• When should I offer solid foods and what should those foods be?
• Is Your Baby Ready to Try Solid Foods?
• Changes in Bowel Movements
• Feeding Himself
• Shopping For Baby’s Food
• Your Baby’s Menu
• Food Supplements
• Food Allergy or Food Intolerance?
• Preventing Poisoning and Choking
This booklet is meant to give you basic guidelines, not advice. Follow your pediatrician’s advice about your baby.
Expert Advisor: Robin Shern-Brewer, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.
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Growing a Healthy Baby is also available in Spanish
You can learn more about about your child’s nutrition by reading: Guide To Your Child’s Nutrition, by the American Academy of Pediatrics