Introducing solid food might be quite a task for parents, especially with all of those rumors surrounding the topic. With so much information available, parents often find themselves confused understanding when to start baby food. You have probably heard or read somewhere that switching to solid food too early or too late is a cause of many allergies. That might be a very frustrating thing to deal with, especially with your first child. Giving your little one solid foods for the first time is a major step, so you need to be sure you do everything right. Here is everything you need to know about starting solids.
Make Sure Your Baby Is Ready
The only thing your baby needs to be healthy is breast milk or formula. Leading paediatricians recommend mothers to keep breastfeeding for at least six months after giving birth.
After some time, typically by the age between 4 to 6 months, your baby will become ready to start eating solid foods together with breast milk or formula. Usually, babies are old enough when they turn 4 months to start using their tongues to move food to the back of their mouths, instead of pushing food out. Their coordination starts to improve and that’s when you can start thinking about giving your baby solid food.
However, age is not the only factor that determines if your baby is ready for solids. For example:
- Does your baby put things in her mouth, such as toys or hands?
- Is your baby able to sit when supported?
- Does your baby show desire for food? You can figure this out if your child is leaning forward and trying to grab the food.
- Can your baby hold its head in upright, steady position?
If your answer is yes to most of these questions, consult with your doctor to decide if your little one can begin transitioning to solid food.
When And What Food to Serve
Don’t stop giving your baby breast milk or formula. Start slowly, then progress towards more solid foods.
- A simple start. You should start with single-ingredient food, but make sure there’s no salt or sugar in it. Continue giving the same food to your child for three to five days to check if there’s an allergic reaction, such as rash, vomiting, or diarrhea. After you check if your baby accepts different single-ingredient foods, you can start combining them.
- Zinc and iron are some of the most important nutrients when your baby turns 6 months until the first birthday. You can find zinc and iron in single-grain cereal and pureed meats.
- Baby cereals. Start with mixing 4 tablespoon breast milk or formula with 1 tablespoon of iron-fortified, single-grain baby cereal. Don’t serve this mixture from a baby bottle. Alternatively, put your baby in a sitting position and try feeding it with a small spoon. Do this only once or twice a day, and always after breastfeeding or giving formula. One your child gets used to runny cereal, reduce the amount of milk you put and increase the serving size, gradually, of course. Offer different cereals such as barley, oatmeal, and rice. Avoid giving your baby only rice because of potential exposure to arsenic.
- Add fruits and vegetables. Introduce pureed fruits and vegetables that contain no salt or sugar. Make sure you are giving a single fruit or a vegetable at a time. Repeat giving a single single-ingredient item for three to five days between introducing new food.
- Finger foods. When your baby turns 8 months, it will be able to start handling small portions of chopped vegetables, and fruits. Also, it will be ready to start trying to get used to cheese, pasta, dry cereal, baby crackers, and well-cooked meat.
Don’t be surprised if your baby denies pureed food because the texture and taste are new. Don’t force your baby to eat if it neglects food, but try again in a week. If the problem persists consult with a doctor to determine if the baby is not refusing food because of some other problem.
There is no formal evidence pointing out that giving your baby highly allergenic foods such as fish, eggs, and peanuts later in life prevents asthma, eczema, food allergy, and allergic rhinitis. In contrast, introducing eggs, peanuts and other highly allergenic items might even decrease the risk of food allergy.
In addition, if your relatives have a history of food allergies, make sure you introduce your kid to that item while you are at home, don’t do it outside the house. Also, keep an oral antihistamine by your side whenever you do something risky like this. You can gradually increase the amount of food you tested if your child doesn’t show any negative reactions.
A pediatric journal published a scientific study regarding food and allergies in babies. The study monitored about 1000 babies until they were 5 years old. The researches also examined the food that babies were eating (eggs, fish, meat, wheat, rye, oats, potatoes) and were tracking the time when children tried the food for the first time.
The researches measured IgE (allergen-specific immunoglobulin E) to predict each baby’s sensitivity to food. The study found out that the babies who were introduced to eggs after 10 months and to oats after 5 months of birth were much more likely to develop allergies to eggs and cow’s milk. The same results showed up with fish (after 8 months), wheat (after 6 months), rye (after 7 months), and potato (after 4 months).
The research also suggests that introducing fish, meat, rye, and potatoes too late may increase the risk of developing inhalant allergies later in life. This type of allergic reaction (such as the runny nose, nasal irritation, or breathing difficulties) happens when you inhale; people are usually allergic to trees, pet dander, grasses, flowers, pollen, and dust.
These negative effects were persistent even the researchers corrected all of the other factors that might cause mentioned allergies, such as whether the babies were given breast milk or formula, or if the parents had asthma or similar allergies. Also, they were able to minimize the possibility of parents introducing any of the mentioned foods too late which could later result in developing an allergy. Sometimes, parents are in fear to introduce a particular food to their baby if they know that someone in the family had an allergy or if they heard that some other baby is allergic to it. This is the reason why they might introduce that food to the baby too late, and the baby could develop an allergy because of that.
All in all, these results combined with the other research regarding particular food items and allergies show that you won’t lower chances of developing a food allergy if you introduce a specific food to your child too late. In contrast, you might just increase the chances, which could lead to other digestion problems later. It is usually recommended that you breastfeed your baby until it is 6 months old, and you should probably stick to that rule. But, try to gather enough information and consult with your doctor to decide what is the perfect time to starting solids, without any risk of developing food allergies.
What About Juices?
You shouldn’t be giving your baby any juice until it turns at least one year. Juice has no necessary nutrients that baby can’t get from whole fruit – so it is not as valuable. If you give too much juice to your child you will be contributing to diarrhea and weight problems. Also, juice contains a lot of sugar so giving your child juice daily will lead to tooth decay.
However, if you want to give juice to your baby, you need to make sure that the juice 100% fruit and only up to 3oz per day.
As you probably already know, not all foods are appropriate for infants. Keep these simple rules in your head when you think about introducing solids to your little one:
- Don’t give your baby honey or cow’s milk before the first birthday. Honey is a dangerous food for infants since it can contain spores that might cause an illness known as infant botulism. Cow’s milk is not a good source of iron, it doesn’t meet an infant’s nutritional needs and can increase the risk of iron deficiency.
- Don’t give your baby any food that your baby could choke on. When your baby starts eating solids, don’t introduce chunks of cheese or meat, hot dogs, grapes, raw fruit, or vegetable chunks if they are not cut into small pieces. Also, don’t introduce any popcorn, seeds, nuts or any kind of candy that you can’t soften even more. Marshmallows and peanut butter fall into high-risk food category too. To prevent choking, you should spread a thin layer of peanut butter or just give your child pure peanut butter puree.
Baby Food at Home
There’s a big risk when preparing solid foods for your baby before it is at least 4 months old. You shouldn’t introduce your child to any of these foods: carrots, beets, spinach, squash or green beans. The reason for this is that these items contain so many nitrates that could possibly cause methemoglobinemia (a blood disorder).
However, it is recommended to make your own baby food instead of buying ones in the stores. The ones you can buy is usually full of additives, sugars, and other unnecessary ingredients that you don’t want to feed your baby when it is that young.
You should always talk to your baby and try to help with the process of feeding as much as possible when you’re first starting out with solids.
- Stay seated. Once your baby starts sitting without support, you should start using a baby highchair with a stable base. Remember to use safety straps as well to secure your child.
- Your baby will most likely play with its food most of the time. Your job as a parent is to make sure that the food is broken down into small pieces, easy to swallow, and soft.
- Use utensils. While you’re feeding your baby, give it a spoon to hold in its hand while you are using a second spoon to give food. You should encourage your little one to use a spoon once its dexterity improves.
- Offer a cup. When your baby gets a bit older you should start introducing a cup instead of a bottle. When it turns around 9 months, your child will be capable of handling a bottle on its own.
- Individual servings. Avoid feeding your baby directly from a container or a jar. The reason for this is that the spoon you use will contain a lot of salivae that might spoil leftovers. Because of that, place servings in a dish. You can reuse baby food in jars for two or three days if you refrigerate it.
- Power struggles. Don’t push your baby if it turns away from the new food. Just try introducing the food another time.
- Know when you should stop. Your baby will always turn away or even cry if it had enough to eat, so don’t force extra bites. As long as you are noticing that your baby is making a progress in growth, it is getting enough food. Also, don’t force your baby to eat as much as possible before sleeping in order to make it sleep better. There is no formal evidence backing up this.
An infant needs to be focused in order to eat. That’s why you need to introduce a routine to your child – always wash hands, soothe your kid, and only then you can start feeding your child. Also, stay calm and make your child as calm as possible – turn off any loud music and the TV. Pediatricians recommend doing this because it helps your baby to be more conscious of eating and realizing when they don’t need any more food.
Be sure that your baby will make horrible faces and grimaces when you’re introducing food that the baby is not used to. However, that’s not a sign that you should stop feeding your child. Also, you should get used to mess. A lot of mess. There will be food everywhere once your baby starts getting used to solid foods, so be prepared for a lot of cleaning. Keep in mind that this is not a sign of disliking food that you gave to your child. It takes a lot of practice and coordination to successfully get food into your child’s mouth.
Baby Planet Overview
Most pediatricians and researches suggest that starting solids should be introduced between 4 and 6 months of age. You should probably stick to these suggestions. However, every child is different and might not accept certain foods as easy as other kids, so you can’t always be sure when to start baby food. This shouldn’t demoralize you because it will probably start eating after some time. Follow the given rules and always consult with your doctor in order to avoid food allergies and negative effects. Be prepared for a lot of mess and a lot of cleaning. Always be supportive to your child and it will certainly progress really fast!