Taking that first bite of solid food is a big and exciting milestone for parents and their little one. You may wonder how, when, and what foods are best to start with. Here are a few simple suggestions:
Is my baby ready for solid foods?
As you approach this stage in your child’s life, keep in mind that every baby is different. Each child grows and develops at a different rate, so readiness can vary. In the first few months of a baby’s life, the only food that they need is breastmilk or formula. Starting your baby on solid foods before they reach 4 months of age is not recommended, as it can greatly increase your child’s risk for obesity and other problems. Most infants between 4 to 6 months will be developed enough to start the introduction of baby food. This is the age that they figure out how to move food from the front of their mouth to the back, so that they can swallow it. Here are a few milestones to look for:
- Is your baby constantly putting their hands or toys in their mouth?
- Can your baby hold their head in an upright and steady position?
- Can they sit with little to no support?
- Is your baby showing a desire for food by leaning forward and opening their mouth when you are eating?
- Has your baby doubled their birth weight and/or weighs about 13 lbs. or more?
If you answered yes to these questions, then it is likely that your baby is ready for their first bite of solid food. It is important that you make sure to wait until these signs are met. If you are having trouble determining your baby’s readiness, then check with your child’s healthcare provider. We are always happy to answer questions!
What foods should I start with?
It is up to you to decide what food to start with! There is no medical evidence proving that there is any advantage to providing foods in a certain order. Traditionally, the most common food to start with would be a single-grain cereal such as rice cereal or oatmeal. This generally works as a good training food, but doesn’t necessarily need to be their first food. Any simple single ingredient food will do. However, honey should be avoided until infants are 12 months of age as it can contain a toxin called botulism. Here are some general recommendations to keep in mind:
- Foods should be soft or pureed to prevent choking. Start with only a small amount on a spoon.
- Wait 3-5 days between new foods to asses for possible allergic reactions such as hives or persistent vomiting.
- Foods high in iron and zinc are usually good choices
- It is no longer recommended to delay the introduction of common food allergens like peanut butter, eggs, fish, or dairy. In fact, new research has shown that introducing peanut containing foods sooner may be somewhat protective against developing a peanut allergy. (There are a few exceptions to this rule, so it is good to talk to your pediatrician first.) Usually, the best way to do this is to buy smooth peanut butter and thin it out with a few teaspoons of breastmilk or formula to make it a manageable consistency.
- There is no evidence showing that your baby will develop a dislike for vegetables if fruit is given first. Babies are born with a preference for sweets regardless of the order of food you introduce to them.
- Encourage baby to taste and explore their food, even if a good portion ends up all over them or the floor. It can get messy and that’s okay!
- Babies will often need to be introduced to a food many times before they take a liking to it. Solid food is a new texture and takes some getting used to.
When can baby have finger foods?
After your baby has mastered purees, gradually increase the texture. Once your baby can sit up on their own and bring objects to their mouth, you can start to offer finger foods – ex: scrambled eggs, overcooked pasta, small pieces of banana. This is a great way for baby to develop their fine motor skills and learn to feed himself/herself. All finger foods should be soft and cut into small pieces to avoid choking. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to easily mash it between your finger and your thumb or it should be a dissolvable. Meal times must always be supervised. Hot dogs, whole grapes, popcorn, raw vegetables, apple chunks, and nuts are some of the more common choking hazards. If you don’t know the infant Heimlich, there is no time like the present to learn it!
Is it okay to give them juice? Does my baby need water?
A common misconception when it comes to whole foods and nutrients for your baby is that juice is a good idea. However, fruit juices are not recommended for babies (one exception – your healthcare provider may advise juice to help with constipation). Juice tends to fill kids up, leaving little to no room for more nutritious foods. Juice can also cause diarrhea, promote obesity, and put your baby at risk for cavities when they are teething.
Babies generally don’t need water as they get the fluids that they need from breast milk or formula. However, it is okay to offer a few small sips of water from an open or sippy cup with meals, but this shouldn’t be their primary source of liquid.