The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies start eating solid foods between four and six months of age. When to introduce solid foods depends on a number of factors, including whether your baby was born prematurely, how your baby’s overall health is, and whether your baby has met the developmental milestones necessary for eating food.
Although your baby’s pediatrician will probably give you some information on how and when to start giving your baby solids, the dominance of the baby food industry can be overwhelming for new parents! From purees, to finger foods, to ready-made meal services, there are many resources for parents to use when planning their baby’s first foods.
To help take the fear out of starting foods, here are five things every parent should know about starting solids with their baby:
1. Get the timing right.
The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to start solids sometime between four and six months of age, but readiness varies among babies.
During the first six months of life, all of a baby’s nutritional needs can be met with either breast milk or formula. Between six and twelve months of age, your little one might need calories from other sources to support her rapid growth and development.
Solids foods can provide a baby with extra calories and nutrients that she cannot get from a diet that consists of only breast milk or formula. Eating a variety of foods can help support a baby’s brain development, digestive maturity, and progression of motor skills. There is also growing evidence to support the theory that early introduction of common food allergens might actually prevent the occurrence of food allergies.
Don’t be discouraged if your little one seems uninterested at first.
Many pediatricians give parents the green light to start solids around the time their baby is four months old. However, just because the doctor gave the okay, doesn’t mean your baby is ready. Some babies won’t be ready to enthusiastically try new foods until closer to six or seven months of age. If your baby doesn’t seem too excited about solid foods at first, don’t fret – not all babies develop on the same timeline. Take a break, and try again in a few weeks.
2. Get the technique right.
How you feed your baby is just as important as what you feed your baby.
There are many options for beginning foods for babies, but it is important for parents to learn how to properly feed their little one.
Firstly, a baby should only eat in an upright (not reclined) position, preferably in a high chair designed for infant safety. This can prevent choking. Secondly, while it’s okay for parents to feed their baby pureed food in packaged pouches, it is important that the baby is spoon-fed and the parent does not squeeze the pouch directly into the baby’s mouth. Parents can even squeeze the food onto a spoon and give it to the baby, as long as the baby is getting to interact with the actual food and not a package. Infants need the full sensory experience in order to become skilled eaters.
3. Get the type of foods right.
Parents should choose foods that are high in key nutrients.
Although breast milk or formula should be the primary source of nutrition during the baby’s first year of life, solid foods can provide several key nutrients that your baby needs as he grows and develops.
Parents should look for the presence of iron, fat, DHA, and fiber in packaged baby foods. Iron is especially important, as your baby’s nutritional stores he was born with will be depleted by six months. If you’re worried about your baby’s iron intake, focus on foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, lentils, leafy greens, and eggs.
Fat is an integral part of a baby’s physical and cognitive development, so be sure to include healthy fats in your baby’s diet. Some healthy sources of fat include plant oils and nut butters. Avocado is a great source of fat, and is soft enough for your baby to eat in slices instead of pureed.
Fiber is important for your little one’s digestive system. The lack of fiber in infant cereals can lead to constipation, which is one reason why parents might choose to skip cereals altogether. Foods such as beans, avocado, lentils, berries, and apples are high in fiber and great options to incorporate into your baby’s diet.
Parents should aim to feed their baby a variety of flavors and textures.
Give your baby plenty of exposure to different tastes and textures. While some babies prefer purees, many babies enjoy eating table food (served in infant-safe ways). If your baby is in good health and there isn’t a family history of food allergies, there aren’t very many foods that are off limits!
Variety is important in your baby’s diet. Babies can enjoy experiencing different smells, textures, and flavors. Although parents should avoid giving their baby salt or sugar, it is safe for babies to eat foods that are cooked with spices. Even young babies can appreciate bitter or sour foods. The more variety your baby has in his diet, the more adventurous of an eater he’ll be in childhood.
All babies prefer sweet flavors that mimic the sweetness of breast milk or formula, but it is important to include a wide variety of foods in your child’s diet. Because of this natural preference, many parents opt to introduce their baby to starches and vegetables before fruits. For instance, you might start by introducing your baby to vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, or spinach, and then move on to sweeter flavors such as sweet potato and squash, before introducing your baby to sweet foods like fruits.
4. Get the mom-shaming out of the equation.
Although society can be quick to judge mothers who use store-bought baby food instead of making their own at home, there truly is no harm in buying food versus cooking food for your little one.
If you choose to buy packaged baby food, opt for companies that use natural, organic ingredients. Choose foods that are made from quality ingredients and don’t contain artificial sweeteners.
Infant cereal can be an easy place to start when it comes to introducing solids, but it is not necessary. Rice cereal or oatmeal cereal can be mixed with formula or breast milk to provide a nutritious, filling meal for your baby. Some parents opt to skip infant cereals, which is also okay.
Making your own baby food can be a simple and fun way to start solids with your baby. Simply steam fruits and vegetables, and blend with water or milk to form a smooth consistency. You can also cook and freeze portions of baby food to make preparing meals even easier!
The KeaBabies Baby Food Glass Containers are perfect for creating healthy, homemade baby food purees! These storage jars are:
Lead, phtalate, and PVC free
Airtight and food-grade material
Easy to store
The KeaBabies Baby Food Glass Containers are ideal for babies that are starting solid foods. Parents can write the date on the top of the containers for simple storage in the refrigerator or freezer. Introducing solids can be fun and easy with these amazing food storage jars!
5. Get the safety rules committed to memory.
Above all, your baby needs to be safe when starting solids. It can be helpful for parents to learn infant CPR and first aid before beginning solid foods. Knowing the difference between gagging and choking, signs of a food allergy or intolerance, and developmental milestones necessary for eating solid food are important for all parents to be aware of.
First, babies should not start solids until they have good head and neck control, can sit up with minimal assistance, can lean forward toward food, seem interested in food, and are in good overall health. Babies should start solids between 4 and 6 months of age.
Babies should only eat in an upright position, buckled into a high chair or other feeding chair. Feeding times should not be rushed, and parents should start slowly with only one small meal per day. Using infant-sized utensils can be helpful for your baby. Mealtimes should be free of distractions such as phones or television.
Parents should pay attention to textures and water down foods that are too chunky for their baby to eat. Babies can benefit from exposure to a variety of tastes and textures, but your baby may gag on food that is too thick. Foods can be blended with water, breast milk, or formula to change the consistency and make it easier to introduce to your little one.
The following foods are choking hazards and should not be served to infants:
Raw apples and carrots
Whole nuts and seeds
Hot dogs served in coin shapes
Meat with bones
Thick nut butters (like peanut butter or almond butter)
Chunks of meat
Foods in small pieces that may become lodged in the throat
Infants under one year of age should not have honey. Milk and cheese should be pasteurized. Fish high in mercury (like canned tuna) should be avoided. Dairy products can be served, but cow’s milk should not be served as a beverage until after baby’s first birthday. Cow’s milk can be used in cooking, though!
When your baby is ready for solid foods, it is important to introduce foods slowly and keep a record of what foods you give your baby, especially allergenic foods (such as soy, dairy, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, and fish). When your baby has a new food, it can be a helpful practice to wait a few days before introducing another new food.
If you suspect that your baby has a food allergy, get your baby an appointment with a pediatric allergist for assessment. Keep a record of your baby’s reaction to allergenic foods when you start to introduce solids.
Finger foods, commonly associated with a practice called baby-led weaning, are also a possibility for introducing solids. Parents should be aware of how to serve finger foods in a safe way. Foods such as baked sweet potato, pears, banana, and avocado make wonderful options for first foods because they are soft and easy to grab. If you choose to give your baby finger foods, you can also help your baby by offering a loaded spoon or fork.
Parents might opt to take an infant and child CPR course before starting solids to recognize the signs of choking. The phone number for poison control should be displayed somewhere prominent in the household in case of emergency.
Starting solid foods can be a wonderful milestone for your little one!
As long as it is done safely, starting solid foods can be a fun experience for both parents and babies! Always introduce foods under the guidance of a pediatrician, and your little one can have a safe and enjoyable introduction to the world of solid foods!
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.