Ok, so your little baby is between the ages of 4 and 6 months, and you’re interested in starting solid foods! Check my article on the top 10 facts about when to start solid foods. This is an exciting time in your baby’s development. Relax. Take a deep breath, and get ready for some fun!
1. When Starting Solid Foods, Choose Wisely
I personally think that making your own baby food is the way to go. It’s actually quite simple, easier to vary the tastes and textures, and you know exactly where your baby’s food is coming from and how it’s prepared. This being said, making your baby’s food isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine too. If you do plan on making some of your baby’s food when starting solid foods (good for you!), here are some important food safety tips before you begin:
- Thoroughly wash hands and utensils before preparing food.
- Once a food is frozen and defrosted, do not refreeze.
- Once a utensil has touched your baby’s mouth, and then the food container, discard any un-eaten food at the end of the feeding.
- Cool and refrigerate/freeze any prepared food immediately.
- Use tap water (it contains useful fluoride).
It’s best to start with solids that are easily pureed, easy to digest, and only slightly sweet. These characteristics will lead to the highest success with the introduction to solids! Traditionally, rice cereal has been the food of choice to begin solid feeding. It is easy to make or purchase and prepare. Simply mix a tablespoon with 2-4 tablespoons of breastmilk, formula, or water until desired consistency (thin, but not too runny). This being said, the latest recommendations on feeding from the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) states that you should start with a fruit or a vegetable, and save the cereal for later. I agree with the latest AAP recommendations, and think it’s best to jump in and start with some vegetables or fruits instead of the cereals. I also like to start with the orange vegetables (squash, sweet potatoes, carrots…) because they tend to be easy to digest and have just a hint of sweetness. Starting with fruits or greener vegetables is perfectly acceptable, although fruits tend to be a preference because they are MUCH sweeter, and green veggies can be a touch harder to digest.
Here are some great foods to start with:
- Baby oatmeal cereal
- Sweet Potato
- White Potato
- And the list continues…
- Wait until your child is eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, and cereals before introducing meats.
2. Safely Start Solid Foods: Choking and Allergies
I always like to take a moment to discuss an almost universal fear of parents when they begin solid foods: choking. True choking is very scary, and can escalate quite quickly into an emergent situation. Brushing up on basic infant CPR is a great idea, for this and other reasons! It is normal for babies to cough, gag, or sputter a bit especially when they are first starting out with solids. That is ok. Give them space and time, and never try to insert your fingers into their mouths to grab food…this can actually push food back into their airway and cause them to actually choke. Avoid feeding your baby large pieces of hard foods. Always avoid/use extreme caution when giving nuts, grapes, raw carrots, popcorn, hot dogs, and hard candies. These are all choking hazards. True choking is when your child’s airway is blocked. This means that they are not able to get air in or out of their lungs. Your child will be silent, mouth open, eyes beginning to water and bulge, and they may raise their hands to their throat or mouth. This is a true emergency!
One more topic that seems to pop up when I talk about solid foods is a concern over allergies. It is true that food allergies are becoming more prevalent in our society, and the reason for this dramatic increase is largely unknown. Many schools of thought exist as to what the reasoning is for this increase in allergies. I subscribe to the “cleanliness” and “non-exposure” school. I believe that because we tend to try to minimize dirt exposure, by constantly scrubbing everything clean with disinfectants, that we have caused our bodies to become “too clean”. This means that without the normal flora and fauna to battle against, we often begin to fight our own bodies (which is displayed in autoimmune diseases). In addition to being “too clean”, traditional exposure to high allergenic type foods (nuts, egg, soy, etc) was delayed due to recommendations. In fact, when my son was born, the current literature suggested waiting until the age of 2 to introduce peanut butter. Some studies in other countries suggest that early introduction to peanut butter is protective (check out literature from Israel where a peanut butter based cereal is the norm, like Cheerios are in the US). Lately the AAP has changed this stance, suggesting that early introduction (even close to the 6 month mark) is ok/best. This being said, if you have a strong family history of serious (anaphylactic) allergies (to food or other substances), take extreme caution before feeding your baby something like peanut butter, and ALWAYS discuss food introduction with your health care provider before beginning. Doing your own research on the subject and bringing it into a discussion with your healthcare provider is a great way to get a well informed and stimulating discussion going!
Food allergy is certainly a hot topic these days. The current estimates regarding how many children actually have a true food allergy range from somewhere between 4-5% of children in the US. This number is also slowly on the rise, so it is a real concern. This being said, there are many people who believe their children have an allergy, when in fact in may be an intolerance or just a one-time-upset that coincidentally occurred after eating a new food. Here is a good link from the Mayo Clinic to help tease out the difference between a true allergy and a potential intolerance. In addition, here’s a link from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding the prevalence of food allergies.
Finally, ALWAYS keeps some children’s Benadryl in the house, and know your baby’s dose. If you suspect a reaction to a new food (serious reactions tend to occur rather quickly), like swelling of the face, difficulty breathing, etc, give your baby Benadryl and call your healthcare provider or 911 immediately!
3. Tips for Success!
Now that you know the basics about starting solid foods, and how to be mindful of some basic safety issues regarding eating, here are a few ideas to help insure a successful and fun mealtime!
- Place child in a highchair and secure with straps. Some parents do prefer to feed their babies on their own laps, but this can lead to some difficult maneuvering (imagine trying to securely hold baby, a utensil, a bowl…you get the idea!), and can impede your baby’s ability to learn how to self-feed effectively since the closer we are to our children the more we tend to be “hands on” or interfere (with good intentions!).
- Use small bowls and spoons meant for infant feeding.
- Encourage play with food and self-feeding by giving your baby a spoon and cutting appropriate foods into very small pieces
- Do not force-feed your baby. Babies eat when they are hungry and tend to stop when they are full. Good feeding habits begin here! In our society we tend to really push “finishing our food”. I remember when I was little having to “take another bite for mommy, and one for daddy, etc”, until my plate was cleaned. Eating beyond the point of fullness, something that occurs when we really push “cleaning the plate”, can lead to the loss of our natural ability to know when we are full. This loss of the fullness recognition is one of the leading thoughts behind why obesity is on the rise in our society. Since babies have this ability to recognize when they are full, they naturally stop at this point. This is a wonderful, protective instinct! As a parent, it’s important to put aside our desires for a “clean plate”, and honor this ability. It doesn’t say anything about your cooking, I promise!
- If your baby does not seem to enjoy a food, do not give up! Sometimes it can take multiple tries. I think in general it takes about 3-5 tries of some foods for a baby to enjoy a new taste. In addition, trying something now may not result in success, but two months later, it could be a new favorite food. I have noticed a cyclical like/dislike pattern in my own picky eater. Encouraging a diverse palate is a great idea that will serve you and your child as they grow. Continue offering “rejected” foods because one day your child may try it, and change his/her mind!
- Space each new food apart by at least 3-5 days. This way you can ensure identification of any possible reactions.
- This article is certainly addressing starting “solid foods”, but inevitably when talking about this topic, the question of fruit juice creeps into the equation. Here’s my stance on the issue…I don’t believe that fruit juice should be a regular part (if any part!) of your baby’s diet. Although 100% fruit juice has some healthy components, it is largely comprised of simple sugars. If you feel the need to give some juice, please DILUTE heavily with water, keep it under 4 oz per day, and always serve in a cup (not a bottle) to preserve your baby’s precious teeth.