In my previous articles, I discussed breastfeeding a baby, and formula feeding as well. In this article, I will highlight the importance of introducing solid foods to your baby. Many first time mothers are apprehensive about when to start giving solid foods to the baby, which foods to introduce, how to introduce them and what to do in case the baby has a food allergy. Here is a complete guide about introducing solid foods to your baby.
1. When to introduce solid food
Most doctors say solids can be introduced to the baby anytime between 4 to 6 months, provided the baby shows readiness towards eating solids. Until the baby is ready for solid foods, formula milk or breast milk provides the baby with all the nourishment and calories he needs and is able to handle. Newborn babies are unable to swallow solid foods and their digestive system cannot handle them until at least 4 months of age.
There is a bit of controversy on the subject of when to introduce solid foods. The section on breastfeeding in the Americal Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that babies should be exclusively breastfed up until the 6th month. On the other hand, the nutrition section of the AAP recommends starting solids any time between 4 to 6 months.
2. Which solid foods to introduce first
Every baby has a different chemistry, so it is advised that you talk to your pediatrician about which solid foods to introduce first. It is a good idea, to begin with, any pureed single-ingredient food without adding any sugar or salt. Mostly, babies are started on solid foods with the introduction of infant cereal however, there is no medical evidence that this offers any health benefits or advantages.
The AAP suggests that if your baby is breastfed then the best first food for baby is meat because of the iron in chicken, turkey, and beef which helps replace the baby’s iron stores which begin to diminish by 6 months of age. Other options for first solid foods are pureed peaches, bananas, pears, squash and sweet potatoes.
3. Introducing solid food to baby
Initially, for the first few times that you start feeding solid foods to your baby, just give him 1 or 2 teaspoons of pureed solid food or infant cereal right after bottle-feeding or breastfeeding him.
It is best to use a soft-tipped plastic spoon so as to avoid injuring the baby’s gums. Offer the baby a small amount of food by taking only enough food that covers the tip of the spoon. In case your baby does not show any interest in the food, that’s okay. Let him just smell the food for now and try again at another time.
Always put food into a small dish and feed the baby from that. Never feed the baby directly from ready-to-eat jars or baby food pouches, because if you return the spoon from the baby’s mouth back into the jar, then bacteria from the baby’s mouth enters the jar. It is always best to throw away baby food jars within a day or two of opening them.
If you are beginning solid foods by first introducing infant cereal to your baby then initially give him only 1 or 2 teaspoons of diluted infant cereal. Add formula or breast milk to a small pinch of cereal. At first, introduce diluted cereal, and gradually make the consistency thicker by using less liquid.
4. Frequency of feeding solid foods
At first, give solid food to your baby only once a day. By the time he is 6 to 7 months old, two meals of solid food are okay. At around 8 or 9 months, it is okay for a baby to be eating three meals a day. And when he is eight months older, the diet should contain breast milk or formula, infant cereal, pureed vegetables and fruits, and small amounts of protein, eggs, cheese, poultry, lentils, meat, and tofu.
There are foods that you should not give a baby under one year of age, for example, honey. Honey can be the cause of botulism in babies. Babies below one year’s of age should also not be given cow’s milk or soy milk.
5. Identifying food allergy
When a baby is allergic to any food that he has been introduced to, there will be visible signs of a reaction within some minutes, or in some cases hours. Mostly, babies with food allergies have mild reactions. If you notice vomiting, hives or diarrhea, call your pediatrician for advice.
In case the baby faces difficulty breathing, if there is wheezing or in the case of facial swelling (including the lips and tongue) your baby could be having a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Dial your local emergency number immediately.
6. Minimizing risk of food allergies
Normally, first foods that are introduced to a baby such as an infant cereal, pureed fruits, and veggies, meats etc. do not cause allergic reactions. But it is always important to observe your baby for signs of allergy, just to be on the safe side.
Once you have tried the above-mentioned foods and if your baby is tolerating them well then you can move on to introducing more allergenic foods such as eggs, fish, peanut butter, soy, and wheat. The American Academy regarding Allergy Asthma and Immunology says that giving allergenic foods to infants who are 4 to 6 months old might actually help in preventing the development of food allergies later in life.
You have to take special precautions with your baby when he falls into any of a below-mentioned category. It’s best to consult your pediatrician or an allergist so as to create a customized feeding plan in order to introduce your baby to solids:
- Another of your children has peanut allergy
- Your baby has eczema despite following a treatment plan as advised by your doctor.
- Your baby had an allergic reaction to some food in the past.
- Previously your baby had a blood test which was positive for an allergy to a specific food.