By about 6 months, breastmilk and formula alone are no longer able to provide the entire range of food components necessary to meet all of your baby’s needs. Though they are still an excellent source of nourishment, they must be supplemented with solid foods which contain the extra calories, iron, and other nutrients your baby’s growing body now needs.
When should I introduce my baby to solid foods?
Most doctors agree that solid food can begin to be introduced into a baby’s diet around 4 months, regardless of how much milk the baby is taking. Feeding your baby solids before 4 months isn’t recommended, as his intestines aren’t mature enough yet to digest solid food. Swallowing food is also difficult for a baby younger than 4 months because of inadequate saliva production, undeveloped mouth and swallowing coordination, and weak head and body control. By the fourth month, a baby’s digestive system is mature enough to handle solid food, and is able to absorb nutrients supplied in solid food. HOWEVER, IT IS RECOMMENDED THAT BABIES BE BREASTFED EXCLUSIVELY FOR THE FIRST 6 MONTHS. PARENTS ARE URGED TO TALK TO THEIR HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL BEFORE STARTING SOLIDS AT A YOUNGER AGE.
What kind of solid food should I start with?
Commercial baby cereals (such as Pablum) are a good first food – they are heavily enriched with iron and important B vitamins, and are specially designed for a young baby’s delicate digestive system. They are also convenient, as they’re pre-cooked; you need only add water, breastmilk or formula, depending on the brand. If you choose to use commercial cereals, be sure to read and follow mixing instructions carefully.
Single grain cereals should be introduced first as they’re easily digested, and are an important source of iron. Plain rice cereal is usually well-tolerated and so is often recommended for the first cereal. If your baby tends to be constipated, avoid rice cereal. Opt instead for oatmeal cereal, which has a slightly laxative effect. Cereal should be mixed thin at first until your baby is comfortable with this new food, then mixed thicker as directed. Serve it to your baby with a feeding spoon or other small spoon which fits easily into his or her mouth.
At first, start with one teaspoon of cereal in the morning, and one at supper. Gradually increase the quantity if your baby responds well to the food. Try a variety of fortified cereals, one at a time for a week each, so that your baby can get used to each new taste and sensation. Watch for any adverse reactions.
My baby pushes the food back out of her mouth. Does this mean she doesn’t like it?
No, this doesn’t mean she dislikes the food. It’s a natural reaction for your baby to push out her tongue when something is put in her mouth. This “extrusion reflex” is present until about 3 or 4 months of age. She hasn’t yet developed the control to push it to the back of her mouth so that she can swallow it – something that will come with practice. It may take a week or more to develop this coordination. In the meantime, it may help to feed her only a small spoonful of cereal at a time.
When can I start introducing other foods?
Once your baby has become accustomed to cereals, at about 6 months, try introducing her to bland pureed vegetables such as peas or carrots. After a couple of weeks, you can try a variety of fruit purees, although it’s recommended that you introduce fruit only after your baby has become used to vegetables. She may not be interested in vegetables if she has already become accustomed to the sweeter taste of fruits. Fruit purees can be followed in later weeks by pureed poultry, meat, tofu or cottage cheese.
Commercial strained baby foods are convenient and popular, but by around 6 or 7 months, your baby can probably handle table foods which have been properly prepared. All home-prepared foods should be pureed until your baby develops adequate mouth coordination to mash or chew more textured or lumpy foods, at around 8 months of age. Transition to lumpier or more textured (but still soft) foods should be gradual, and pieces of food should never be large enough to lodge in your baby’s throat and cause choking.
Some foods are not recommended during baby’s first year. Be sure to consult your doctor about which foods are appropriate for your baby.
Some tips for successful feeding
Try to introduce new foods under favourable and pleasant circumstances – not in a hurried or tense fashion, or when your baby is overtired. If your baby isn’t interested in eating, don’t force her; her appetite will return when she is hungry. Though she may not eat a lot at one meal, she’ll probably eat more at the next.
If your baby seems to dislike a particular taste or type of food, don’t force it on her. Wait, then try a little bit again the next day. If she still isn’t interested, move on to other foods. After a month or so has passed, introduce it to her again, perhaps prepared differently this time. Her tastes may have changed in the meantime, or she may have forgotten that she didn’t like this food earlier. If she still rejects it, leave it alone. Her tastes may change as she gets older, or she may never like this particular food. Forcing it on her can turn eating into a battle of wills, which can in turn lead to eating disorders. A better approach is to offer other healthy food alternatives.
Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.