When you have just been a new parent, you must meet the problem of the baby’s solid food. As if latching and getting your baby to sleep through the night wasn’t hard enough, now you have to worry about allergies, potential digestive damage and choking hazards. Sounds like fun, right?
You can look up some simple tips, but before you take any advice from the internet — or even loved ones — it’s important to consult with your child’s pediatrician prior to starting. Dr. Douglas C. Curtiss, Yale-trained pediatrician, dyslexia expert and co-founder of Dyslexic AND UN-Stoppable, reminds new parents that a pediatrician should give the first OK before considering the American Academy of Pediatrics’ general guidelines of starting solids at 6 months old.
Watch for signs of readiness
So when your pediatrician has given the OK, and your baby has reached the safe zone of 6 months of age, what’s next? Curtiss says that the most common signs of solid readiness include a child that holds their head up and shows interest in food when parents are eating, opening the mouth when food is brought near. Your little guy or gal should also be able to move food to the back of the throat with the tongue — younger, less mature babies tend to thrust the tongue forward, rather than swallow, Dr. Curtiss explains.
Dr. Danelle Fisher, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, adds, “Babies are ready to start solid foods usually between 4 and 6 months of age. They should have reached three major milestones in order to be ready to start: age 4 months, weight 12 pounds, good head control. Beyond that, a good soft sign that babies are ready to start solids is watching the parents when they eat and seeming curious or moving their mouth. If a parent tries solids and the baby gags or seems uninterested, they should wait a couple of weeks and then try again.”
It’s go time: Experimenting with baby’s first foods
Here’s one of the most common old wives’ tales that we urge you not to fall prey to — some parents swear by giving a young baby who does not meet the qualifications for solid foods a rice cereal bottle to fill them up and help them sleep through the night. Not only is this a terrible idea because it poses a serious choking hazard for a newborn, but it can destroy a developing digestive tract.
If your child meets the criteria listed by Curtiss and Fisher above and has the approval of their pediatrician, you can move along to the next stage of feeding. “Usually the first food to be introduced is a single grain cereal, such as rice, mixed with breast milk until it is the consistency of pudding and fed on the spoon,” Curtiss explains. “Generally, we start with one meal per day — breakfast or dinner, whichever the parent prefers, though if a parent starts with breakfast, we generally recommend not to do it the very first feeding in the morning. When a baby first wakes, she may be too hungry to try to figure out solids. Better to give her what she is good at (nursing) and then give solids at the second meal.”
For the very first food in the 4- to 6-month window, Fisher says parents can introduce any of the recommended grain cereals, like rice or oatmeal, along with veggies. Fruits are also a popular choice for little babes developing their taste buds for the first time — and they’re easy to mash. “The order in which the foods are introduced does not matter. The most important factor when introducing solids is to try one food once a day for 3 to 5 days to ensure there is no bad reaction (which may include a rash, vomiting or diarrhea),” she says.
Curtiss agrees that the order of the foods is really up to the parent. “There are no studies that say one order is better than others. Some parents say that babies should be given vegetables before fruits so that they don’t reject the vegetables, but there really are no studies to prove this.” In the case of a reaction, Curtiss recommends stopping any new food and trying it again in a few weeks to determine if it was the cause of the symptoms.
You can use these standard feeding guidelines, provided to SheKnows by Tara Todd, registered and licensed dietician, of the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, to make the whole process easy-peasy:
- Breast milk or formula should be your child’s main source of nutrition, but during this stage, start adding more variety
- 1/4 cup of grains/cereals twice a day
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable purée twice a day
- 2 tablespoons of fruit purée twice a day
- 1 tablespoon of meat or poultry purée twice a day
- Breast milk or formula should continue to be your child’s main source of nutrition. At this stage, an infant is crawling and becoming more independent. It can take several tries before your baby likes some fruits or vegetables. If they seem to be rejecting something, don’t give up. You can mix what they don’t like with something they do to encourage them to accept it.
- 1/2 cup of vegetables per day, offering a variety
- 1/2 cup of fruits per day, offering a variety
- 1 ounce of meat or beans a day
- 1 ounce of grains a day
- At this stage, you have a very energetic toddler who is growing rapidly. Try three meals and two to three snacks a day. Begin weaning to whole milk. Fruits and vegetables can be mashed or soft cooked.
- 2 cups of dairy a day, served in 1/4- to 1/2-cup servings
- 2 ounces of grains, with half of the grains as whole grains
- 3/4 cup of vegetables
- 1 cup of fruits
- 1-1/2 ounces of meat/beans, thoroughly cooked and easy to chew
- Whole milk or water to drink
We can all agree that gauging when to start a baby’s first solid foods can be stressful, but Fisher reminds new parents to focus on the signs of readiness as a top priority instead of focusing solely on age. In her practice, she’s seen some babies who are ready for their first taste at 4 months, while others do better with solids at 6 months of age.
You can consider it a win once your baby has successfully kept down 2 to 3 tablespoons of food. Transitioning a baby from liquids to solids can take some time, Curtiss advises. “The first few times a baby is offered solids, she may spit it out, get it all over and not really know what to do with it. I generally recommend that parents take it slow and just have fun with it.”