Baby Josiah just turned six months old, and I’m so excited because that means he’s ready to start eating solid foods. When starting a baby on solids, new parents have so many questions. When should you introduce solids to a baby? Should you keep breastfeeding? What foods should you try first? Are there any foods you should avoid giving a baby?
When to Start Solid Foods
According to the CDC, WHO, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should start introducing solid foods to your infant at around 6 months of age. Some pediatricians recommend as early as 4-5 months, but this is something you’ll want to discuss with your doctor. At around 6 months of age, babies will typically show an interest in food, and they may require more nutrients than breast milk alone can provide.
With my firstborn son, we tried introducing solids at around 4-5 months at the recommendation of our pediatrician. However, he developed a rash on his body from the rice cereal, so we decided to wait until another month to let his digestive system mature a bit more. After that, he did well with it, and we soon switched to oatmeal cereal.
With my second son, Josiah, we decided to wait until 6 months to introduce solids.
The CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that you breastfeed exclusively until around 6 months of age. At that point, you can begin to introduce solids (in the form of baby food or pureed food). However, they recommend that you continue breastfeeding up to one year, and if possible, two years is even better. If you’d like to breastfeed more than that, you’re welcome to do so as long as you and baby would like.
Unfortunately, some mothers cannot breastfeed due to health problems, medications, and so forth. If that’s the case, mothers shouldn’t feel guilty about it. You should do what’s best for you and baby, and work with your doctor for the best solution.
Signs Your Baby is Ready for Solid Food
Here are some simple signs that your baby is ready for solid foods:
- Age: when your baby reaches around 6 months of age, most guidelines suggest starting them on solids. Some doctors recommend 4-5 months as an age you can begin introducing solid foods, but you should consult with your pediatrician.
- Good head control
- Salivating when smelling food
- Showing an interest in food or trying to grab it
- Bringing hands and other objects to his or her mouth
- Developing teeth
- Reduced spit-up and choking during breastfeeding
What Foods Should You Introduce to Baby First?
In the past, it was often recommended that you begin with grains. Now, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that you do not need to start with a specific food. For both of my children, I started them on rice cereal baby food, which I mixed with my breast milk. I then moved on to other grains such as oatmeal cereal, as well as vegetables, fruits, and meats (turkey and chicken in pureed baby food form). Newer research indicates that rice can contain high levels of arsenic, so you’ll want to minimize the amount of rice cereal you give to baby.
If you have any food intolerance/allergy issues, you might want to avoid giving those foods to baby first. Consult with your pediatrician if you have any questions.
Important Tips When Introducing Food
First, you’ll want to introduce one food at a time, and then look for any signs of allergy or intolerance. I plan to feed Josiah rice cereal 2-3 times per day for 3-5 days, in addition to his breastfeeding.Then I’ll switch to a new food and feed him that for the same time period.
If I see any signs of food allergy, I’ll remove that food. Some signs of intolerance or allergy can include any of the following:
- Rash or skin irritation
- Stomach upset, bloating, blood in stool
- Wheezing, sneezing, etc.
- Excessive crying or fussy behavior
If there is no sign of food allergy issues, you can begin to introduce a new food after 3-4 days. Then, you’ll want to wait again to ensure there is no adverse reaction to the new food for 3-5 days. Repeat the process until baby is eating a variety of baby foods that are rich in nutrients, such as grains, vegetables, fruits, and meats (in a pureed, liquid consistency).
What Kind of Food Consistency Should I Use?
At 4-6 months of age, babies are still learning how to swallow effectively. In addition, many babies will lack the appropriate teeth and chewing skills to properly break down food. Therefore, you should use baby food that has been pureed (or make your own to a similar consistency). When using grains, you can mix it with breast milk to create a soupy consistency to avoid choking or gagging risks.
Most baby foods that you buy at the store will be marked with stages. Stage 1, for example, is often simple ingredient baby foods that have a liquid consistency. Stage one baby foods are usually recommended for ages 4-6 months. As your baby develops, you can gradually move up to stage 2 and so on.
Feed the baby small bites, and make sure he or she has swallowed it before offering an additional bite.
What Foods Should I Avoid Giving to a Baby?
While babies can be introduced to many exciting new foods, there are a few things you’ll want to avoid giving your baby.
- Foods that cause allergic reactions in your baby should be avoided. If you suspect an allergic reaction, talk to your doctor.
- Rice cereal should be given in limited quantities due to arsenic risks.
- Honey should not be given to any child under age 1 due to risks of botulism.
- Any food that can cause choking or become lodged inside of baby’s throat should be avoided, such as nuts, grapes, etc. Instead, stick with a pureed/liquid consistency.
- Brands of rice milk such as Rice Dream says to avoid giving to children under age 5.
- Fruit juice should be avoided in children under age 1.
- Unpasteurized food and drinks should be avoided in young children.
- Cow’s milk should be avoided for children under age 1.
- Sugary candies, sodas, etc. should be avoided until around age 2.
- Processed or aged meats should also be avoided.
This list isn’t exhaustive. Other foods might cause problems for babies. If you question the safety of a certain food, consult with your pediatrician.
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