ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENTS DURING A BABY’S FIRST YEAR IS THE INTRODUCTION OF COMPLEMENTARY FOODS.
DEVELOPMENTAL READINESS AND COMPLEMENTARY FOODS GO HAND AND HAND.
UNDERSTANDING THIS, IT’S IMPORTANT TO KNOW THE BASICS OF DEVELOPMENTAL READINESS AND HOW IT RELATES TO STARTING COMPLEMENTARY FOODS.
When to Start Solids?
Doctors suggest starting a baby on solid foods sometime starting with 6 months of age. Some babies are ready for solids as early, but it’s not recommended; the earlier a baby gets started on solids, the more likely that he or she’ll be prone to food allergies later on.
At the beginning, solid foods will just be a supplement to your child’s primary source of nutrition — breast milk or formula. So there’s no need to worry if you haven’t gotten your baby started on solids yet or if he’s not eating as much solid food as you’d like.
It’s important to determine whether your baby is ready for solids before you introduce them. Here are some signs of your baby’s readiness:
- Your baby’s tongue-thrust reflex is gone or diminished. This natural reflex, which prevents infants from choking on foreign objects, also causes them to push food out of their mouths.
- Your baby can support her own head. Even if your baby can’t quite sit up on her own yet, she needs to be able to hold her head up in order to start eating solids.
- Your baby seems interested in food. If she’s eyeing the food you’re eating, reaching out to grab your food, or licking her lips when she smells new foods, she’s probably craving the variety that comes with starting solids.
If you have a family history of food allergies or intolerances, your baby is more likely to have them, too. In that case, you might want to consider waiting more than 6 months before starting solids. Allowing your baby’s digestive system to mature further may help reduce her chances of developing food allergies. You may also want to wait a bit longer than usual if your baby was born prematurely; premature babies often need more time to master the suck-swallow-breathe pattern necessary to handle solid foods.
The First Feeding
Since your baby will still be getting regular feedings of breast milk or formula, solid foods are just “extras” for now. Keep this time fun and relaxed. After all, you now have the privilege of introducing your baby to the rewards of enjoying good food — rewards she’ll hopefully enjoy for the rest of her life.
Here’s how to give your baby his first feeding:
- Sit your baby upright, either in an infant. If she seems a bit scared by the experience, you can try moving her onto your lap.
- Give your baby something to hold, such as a baby spoon or a soft bread crust. This will give her something to focus on, which might free you to get a spoonful of something into her mouth.
- Place a baby spoon (or a small coffee spoon if the baby spoon seems too large), with about 1/4 teaspoon of food on it, close to your baby’s lips. Give her a minute to smell and taste it. Don’t be concerned if this first taste is rejected. Just wait a minute and try again. Expect that most of the food on the spoon will wind up on your baby’s chin or bib. Once her face and bib is covered in food, don’t forget to take some adorable pictures to record the milestone!
- Finish your baby’s feeding with breast milk or formula to satisfy her hunger. Fight the urge to put food into your baby’s bottle. He needs to make the connection that tasty foods are to be eaten sitting up and from a spoon. This early experience will help lay the foundation for good eating habits throughout her life.
Don’t force the issue if your baby cries or turns away when you’re trying to feed him. It’s more important that you both enjoy this experience than it is to make sure that you stick to an arbitrary timetable. Go back to nursing or bottlefeeding exclusively for a week or two, then try again.
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The Second Feeding and Beyond
If your baby’s first feeding goes successfully, try giving him the same food in the same manner once a day for the next few days. Each feeding, you can increase the amount you’re feeding him.
Now that you’ve introduced a new food to your child, it’s important that you keep your eyes open for signs of a food allergy. Signs that your child is allergic/intolerant will include:
- Bloating of the stomach;
- Increased gas;
- A rash around her mouth or anus;
- Runny nose or eyes;
- Unusual crankiness.
If your child seems fine after three to four days, you can consider introducing a second food. Once your baby has mastered these, try introducing ground vegetables, fruits, and meats — in that order.
Always wait several days after feeding your baby a new food so that you can pinpoint any allergic reactions he may have. If you suspect your child is showing signs of a food allergy, speak to a doctor right away.
Age 6 to 8 Months: Adding Fruits and Vegetables
Start with strained or pureed vegetables and then move on to mashed. Servings should gradually increase from a few teaspoons to about two tablespoons, twice a day.
After your child has sampled a variety of vegetables, bring on the fruit. (Start small and work up to a couple of tablespoons, twice daily.)
Juice is fine now and then, but it’s no substitute for the fruit itself. Citrus juice is too acidic for most babies, and some also find apple and pear juices indigestible. A recent study indicates that white grape juice is least likely to cause diarrhea and cramping.
Age 7 to 10 Months: Lumpy Foods
Up until now, your baby has been happy eating mush. But around month seven, she may begin picking parts of your dinner off your plate — a sure sign that she’s ready for the next phase. Pay attention to her cues: If kids haven’t been exposed to lumpy textures by their first birthday, they may develop an oral aversion. They’ll gag when offered food with an unfamiliar texture.
Good choices for first lumps include toast strips, well-cooked pasta, bits of soft fruit, and cooked chopped vegetables. But be careful: Many foods, such as nuts, raisins, grapes, and hot dogs, present a choking hazard for kids under 5 years.
Age 10 to 12 Months: I Can Do It Myself
As your baby grows out of a milk-based diet, his attitude changes too. More and more, he’ll insist on feeding himself. To make it easier, serve thick-textured foods — mashed potatoes, casseroles — that stick to a spoon. The range of finger foods can expand to include finely chopped meat, chicken, or fish.
At 1 year, your child can drink breast milk, whole milk from a cup. By this time, his daily diet will be nearly as varied as your own: six servings of grains, two to three servings of fruits, two to three servings of vegetables, two servings of protein foods, and three cups of milk.
Now that your child has mastered the basic food groups, you can begin teaching him the finer points of healthy nutrition. Setting a good example yourself works better than pushing him to swallow every bite of strained vegetables. Eat right, eat together, and work on making mealtime a relaxed, enjoyable occasion for the entire family.
What Should Baby Eat?
- Single-grain cereals (6 months) The level of iron that is stored up while in utero drops after birth, and a baby reaches an all-time low at around 9 months. That’s why cereals are fortified with iron and why they’re a good first food. Combine one teaspoon of single-grain cereal with four to five teaspoons of breast milk or formula. Once your baby is used to swallowing runny cereal, thicken it by adding more cereal.
- Pureed veggies, fruits, and meats (6 to 8 months) Some doctors say eating fruits before vegetables can cause a lifelong preference for sweet foods, but there’s not much research to back that up. So it’s up to you whether to begin with bananas or carrots.
- Chopped, ground, or mashed foods (9 to 12 months) If your child isn’t ready to move to this stage, it’s fine to stay with pureed foods a little longer. When he’s ready, offer him some finely chopped or mashed finger foods — try crackers, soft fruits and veggies, and ground meats. It’s also safe to feed your child soft rice.
Keeping an Eye on Food Allergies
To make pinpointing allergies easier, give your child only one new food at a time and wait three or four days before trying another. Keep an eye out for signs of an allergic reaction or intolerance, like a rash, hives, wheezing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, excessive gas, diarrhea, or blood in her stools.
What Foods Should Baby Avoid?
Honey It can cause botulism, a serious illness, if introduced too early.
Citrus Check with your doctor to determine whether baby’s at risk for an allergic reaction. If she is, citrus can cause eczema or a nasty diaper rash.
Nuts, Popcorn, Raisins, Dried Cranberries, and Globs of Peanut Butter These foods are choking hazards.
Food Dos and Don’ts
Prepared baby foods
- Do not feed your baby directly from the jar unless you know she’ll finish the whole thing. Bacteria from your baby’s mouth can contaminate the remaining food.
- Throw away jars of baby food within a day or two of opening them.
Homemade baby foods
- Consider steaming, baking, broiling foods for your baby rather than frying or boiling — these cooking methods retain more of a food’s natural nutrients.
- Don’t feed your baby egg whites or honey until she is at least 1 year old.
- Avoid citrus fruits, such as oranges or lemons. These fruits are very acidic and can result in painful diaper rash.
Should Baby Still Drink Breast Milk or Formula?
These should stay in the picture for a while. They provide necessary nutrition, and your baby is used to them—she’ll be comforted by the feel of a nipple and the taste of milk or formula.
At the beginning meal time is more about her getting used to the act of eating and learning the tastes and textures of foods than it is about providing nutrition.
What Should the Feeding Schedule Be?
As soon as baby understands the concept of eating and is excited by and interested in mealtime (this usually happens between 6 and 9 months), start her on a routine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even if she isn’t hungry at times, she’ll get used to the idea of eating on a schedule. And treat liquids, either formula or breast milk, as a complement to a meal, not as a meal itself.
What Should the Mealtime Routine Be?
A baby needs focus to eat, so start a routine where you wash his hands, soothe him, and then sit him down to eat. And maintain the calmness. Turn off the TV and any loud music.
It will take time for your baby to feel comfortable with the new sensations that go along with eating — the feel of a spoon in his mouth and the tastes and textures of different foods.
And get used to messes! Baby will likely fling food everywhere. This is common and doesn’t necessarily indicate a dislike. Getting food into his mouth takes coordination and practice for the baby.
Keep these precautions in mind when it’s baby’s mealtime:
- Trash baby food that has been open for more than 48 hours, and never feed your infant directly from the jar.
- Be sure to stir any purees you’ve warmed up, and always check their temperature before serving.
- Totally avoid these choking hazards during your baby’s first year: nuts, seeds, raisins, hard candy, grapes, hard raw vegetables, popcorn, peanut butter, and hot dogs.
- Steer clear of honey — it can cause botulism in babies under 1 year old.
- Avoid foods that pose a high allergy risk such as eggs, nuts, fresh strawberries, fish, and other seafood.