So when are babies ready for solid foods? It varies a bit, based on a child’s development. Signs that your baby might be ready include being able to sit in a high chair or booster chair, hold his or her head upright, show an interest in food and open his or her mouth for a spoon.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting until a child is at least 6 months old before introducing solid foods to complement breast milk or formula. If you have questions about starting solid foods, check with your child’s health care provider.
There’s no one “right” first food, but single-grain baby cereal has traditionally been used after 6 months of age. The cereal is fortified to meet infants’ nutritional needs. Pureed meats also are a good choice as they are rich in iron and zinc, essential nutrients that are present at birth but whose levels decrease steadily over the first few months.
You can also add in pureed vegetables and fruits. Pureed beans and leafy dark green vegetables contain iron, and the vitamin C in many fruits and vegetables helps iron absorption. Formula or breast milk can be mixed in to thin the puree, if needed.
Studies show that children who are introduced to vegetables and flavorful foods early on are more likely to eat these foods later in childhood. Avoid seasoning your infant’s food with added salt or sugar.
A guide to getting started
Use a small spoon — one that will fit into your baby’s mouth — and begin with very small amounts. At first, your little one may frown, sputter and spit it out. This isn’t necessarily because he or she doesn’t like it, but rather because he or she may not be familiar with moving the tongue backward yet.
Wait for your baby to open his or her mouth for the spoon — don’t force food in. If he or she repeatedly uses his or her tongue to push the spoon away, this may be an indication that your baby isn’t ready for solids yet.
Don’t be surprised if your baby puts fingers to mouth to help swallow the food. He or she may also try to bat away the spoon. Expect it to be a messy experience!
To prevent baby from getting frustrated when he or she is very hungry, try alternating between breast milk or formula and spoonfuls of food. Some parents skip pureed food entirely and let baby lead the learning process by self-feeding appropriate finger foods offered by the parent.
Once your little one gets used to solids, he or she may be ready for a few tablespoons of food a day, including finger foods. By the end of the first year, most children obtain about half of their nutrition from breast milk or formula and half from complementary foods.
Taste and texture
Babies also react to how food feels and tastes in their mouths. While you don’t have to follow a particular sequence of food groups, it may help to introduce different tastes and textures gradually. Offer single ingredient foods at first, and wait three to five days between each new food. If your baby has a
reaction to a particular food — such as diarrhea, a rash or vomiting — you’ll know the culprit. Spacing out new foods also gives your child a chance to get used to a new taste and texture. It often takes quite a few tries (up to 15 or more!) for a new food to gain acceptance.
Baby food puree
Foods that are soft and runny may be easier for your baby to manage at first. One option is to mix 1 tablespoon of a single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal with 4 to 5 tablespoons of breast milk or formula. Or, add breast milk or formula to pureed meat, vegetables, or fruit to attain a similar consistency.
Though it will be quite runny, resist the urge to serve it from a bottle. As your baby learns to manage this consistency, serve foods with a thicker pureed consistency. Keep in mind that some babies eat such foods with gusto right from the start. Others are less enthusiastic. Be patient and keep trying.
By about 9 months, most babies can handle small portions of finger foods, such as well-steamed vegetables, soft fruits, well-cooked pasta, cheese, graham crackers and tender meats.
As your baby approaches his or her first birthday, mashed or chopped versions of whatever the rest of the family is eating will likely become your baby’s main fare. Continue to offer your child breast milk or formula with and between meals.
Juice, while a popular beverage, is not a necessary part of a baby’s diet. Whole fruits have more nutritional value than juice. If you choose to give your child juice, be sure to use 100% fruit juice after 12 months of age, and limit the amount to no more than 4 ounces a day.
Too much juice may contribute to weight problems, tooth decay and digestive issues, such as diarrhea. You also don’t want juice to take the place of more-nutritious solid foods, breast milk or formula.
Don’t offer cow’s milk, honey or unpasteurized foods to your child before he or she is 12 months old. Cow’s milk doesn’t meet an infant’s nutritional needs — it isn’t a good source of iron and too much can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Honey may contain spores that can cause a serious illness known as infant botulism. Unpasteurized food may contain harmful bacteria that could cause infection and diarrhea.
In addition, don’t offer your child foods that could pose a choking hazard. Such foods include:
- Small, slippery foods, such as whole grapes, hot dogs or hard candy
- Dry foods that are hard to chew, such as popcorn, raw carrots and nuts
- Sticky or tough foods, such as plain peanut butter or chunks of steak
If you haven’t done so yet, consider taking an infant cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) course. This is strongly recommended for all parents and very helpful in case of a choking episode.
Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Years, Second EditionShop Now
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