Is Your Baby Ready to Eat? A Guide to Starting Solid Food
By now you've had the joy of watching your baby develop and reach several exciting milestones. Between smiling, laughing, babbling, grabbing toys, rolling over...it's been a fun and busy first several months with many more opportunities to watch your baby grow through her first year. So what's up next? This is about the time parents start thinking about the day they will introduce their baby to solid food.
You soon realize there are so many options as well as differing opinions on how and when baby should begin supplementing a breastmilk or formula diet with solid food. As important as this milestone is, it doesn't need to be a stressful time. Utilizing a few proper recommendations and choosing a path that you are comfortable with as a parent, will set your baby up for success. It's certainly the beginning of a journey that, let's be honest, is a pretty great part of life. Who doesn't love eating?!
When do I begin solid food?
Not too long ago it was normal practice for doctors to encourage parents to introduce solid foods to infants beginning after their 4-month appointment. It's possible this suggestion may still be made. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests exclusive breastfeeding until your baby is 6 months old if you are doing so; even formula fed babies' parents are encouraged to wait until close to that. Obviously, this is a general guideline, and looking for signs to see that your baby is ready is important. So how do you know if your baby is ready?
- Your baby is able to sit on their own or need very little support to do so.
- Your baby has proper head control when sitting up.
- When food is present, your baby opens his mouth or may grab at the food. They seem eager to try it!
- When food is offered, your baby no longer has the natural tongue reflex pushing food away.
Well-meaning friends might try to convince you to start solids earlier than you should. They may tell you that it will help your baby sleep through the night which certainly would be great if it were true. This is actually a myth; your baby is getting all the nutrition they need from breastmilk and formula well past 6 months.
Think of starting solid food as a developmental skill. Yes, your baby will gain some new and beneficial nutrition from their solid food intake but will continue to get the bulk of their nutrition from breastmilk or formula through their first year.
What solid foods should my baby eat first?
After you've decided your baby is ready to begin eating solid foods, it's time to figure out what to feed them! Rice cereal is usually recommended as the go-to first food, but it certainly isn't the only choice. Here are some great options and why each makes a great first food for your baby.
As a first-time mom, I usually went with whatever recommendations my doctor made. So, my first baby had rice cereal for her first food as suggested. She is now 7 and has always been an excellent eater who willingly eats all food groups!
Infant cereal used to be strongly recommended as baby's first food, but that's because baby formula didn't always include all the necessary nutrients. Formula has come a long way, so using baby cereal as baby's first food is no longer necessary. In fact, many argue that there are much better alternatives for baby's first food. If you do want to use cereal as the first solid food for your child, rice cereal isn't your only option. You can also choose from other grains such as oatmeal, barley or even multi-grain.
Because babies are normally deficient in iron and zinc, baby cereals are fortified with these important nutrients. Baby cereals are usually easy on a baby's stomach, as well as inexpensive. Mixed with a little breastmilk or formula makes it an easy choice for your baby's first food.
By the time I had my second child, I was doing more of my own research and feeling more comfortable making some of my own decisions as a mom. Sweet potato is the food I chose to give my son for his first food. Now age 6, he is a great eater and eats most foods without complaint.
Sweet potato makes a great first food. With a hint of sweetness, using this as your baby's first food is an easy choice and one they are likely to enjoy. It is a great source of fiber and is high in carbohydrates, which also makes it filling for your little one. It also contains other essential nutrients such as vitamins A and C.
Honestly, with my third baby, decisions became a lot less stressful. Your life feels about ten times busier, and that means a lot less time to spend on decision-making for your baby. You still want what is best for your child, but by now realize that babies are happy and thrive in spite of making the "perfect" choice. I honestly probably didn't even make a plan for our third child, I think I just decided one day I'd see if she would eat some avocado. I did, however, wait the longest with her - she was definitely past 6 months old. Honestly, I felt no reason to add anything extra into the mix until necessary.
If I had more babies (not happening), I would probably continue this as a first food. It's high in "good" fat which is great for your baby's brain development. It also contains nearly 20 different nutrients. Additionally, it's easy to mash and is available year-round. Mixed with a little breastmilk or formula and this becomes a no-brainer first food.
Having a hard time getting baby to eat something less sweet for baby's first food? Opting for banana could be a great alternative. Some babies may be more willing to eat more solid food if it is something a little sweeter. This is also a reason some parents might choose to wait a little longer on fruits and introduce several vegetables first. But, after having 3 kids, I can assure you that starting with something like bananas as a first food isn't going to be the catalyst in creating a picky eater.
Bananas are great for digestion and contain 3 main vitamins: A, C, and Folate. This is another food that is easily mashable especially when mixed with a little formula or breastmilk. Just remember that you want to puree it well for baby's first eating experiences.
These four foods are certainly not the only ones you can use for your baby's first food. Other great choices include green beans, butternut squash or pears. Even meats aren't off limits as a first food. These all need to be pureed, of course! Just remember that you are the parent, and you don't need to do exactly what all your other mom friends are doing. There is no one right food to feed your baby...mama always knows best.
This is another area where your head may just start to spin if you let other moms influence your decision. Continue to keep in mind that starting your baby on solid food is all about developing the skill of eating. Determine what you think is the best method and move forward with that without comparison to what others are doing. There is no one right way!
There is absolutely nothing wrong with using jars of baby food purchased from the grocery store. Most of the first foods have two ingredients: one "real" food plus water. Want to buy organic? Great! Don't want to buy organic? Great! Your baby is eating fruits and vegetables and learning the skill of eating solids through healthy food, and that's what matters.
My first baby got a lot of homemade purees (but she also got some store-bought purees). Pureeing food at home can be a very enjoyable experience. It's also fun adding in things like cinnamon or mixing foods as your baby becomes more adventurous. If this feels overwhelming to you, don't push it!
So you hear about other mom friends who are pureeing 100% of their baby food and making it look easy? That's great for them, but you should never feel like your child is getting "less" because you're using store-bought instead. Both are great, healthy choices! Is your baby being fed and loved? That's what is most important.
By the time I got around to feeding my third baby, my time was more strapped and making homemade purees wasn't something I felt was necessary. I also wanted to save money. Baby-led weaning was a way to feed my baby in less time and for less money. Bananas, for example, are very cheap!
Baby-led weaning is a method where you give baby foods in their whole form. For example, you would give a banana to a baby with just some of the peel taken off the top. The baby holds the banana and gums the top of it. Or you might slice pieces of avocado and put them on their tray and they grab them with their hand. Baby-led weaning involves no spoon-feeding, but it can also get messy! I usually balanced between baby-led weaning and spoon fed because that worked best for us.
What else is important to know about starting solid foods?
Although there are lots of different foods you can use as your baby's first food, there is a recommended guideline for how you introduce new foods. When your baby is first starting solid foods, only feed your baby one food at a time. It's important to monitor your child for those first few days to see how he handles the food and if you see any signs of allergy. Your baby will likely show no reaction and you can move onto a second food 3-5 days later. Continue this process as you introduce new foods, waiting for the recommended 3-5 days between each food. Before you know it, your little one will have an array of fruits, vegetables, meat, and yogurt in their diet.
Foods to Avoid
It used to be recommended that the following foods be avoided until a baby turned one: peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and strawberries. The AAP actually now recommends the opposite and suggests that introducing them earlier can actually prevent an allergy. If you are unsure, it's best to ask your doctor what you should do.
- Any foods that are choking hazards, such as grapes, popcorn, whole nuts, etc. should not be given to your baby.
- Honey is another food you cannot give to your baby until they are one. This is a safety concern.
- Juice, cow's milk and treats are also something your baby does not need until they are at least one year of age.
If you've learned anything from this article it's that there isn't one perfect way to introduce solid foods to your baby. By following some simple guidelines and making sure your baby is ready for solids, you can ensure this is an enjoyable experience for everyone.