If you’re reading this article then you’re most likely a new parent or hoping to become a parent in the future. Either way, I applaud you for your research! Whether your baby is a few days, weeks, or months old (or still a work in progress), you’re probably trying to figure out the “right” way to parent.
A huge part of raising a healthy child is feeding them correctly. Doing so ensures that your child gets enough of the nutrients they need to properly grow and develop. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding your baby for at least the first six months of life. Exclusively breastfeeding during this time helps with development, protects against infectious and chronic diseases, and reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses.
A woman’s body has the ability to create a powerful food that provides all of the necessary nutrients for a newborn, naturally. Therefore, it’s best that women try to breastfeed their babies for at least six months. However, breastfeeding can be challenging for a number of reasons. Women may have a difficult time producing milk, are busy with jobs or raising other children, or may choose to not breastfeed for other reasons. Therefore there are a variety of alternative formulas available.
Whether you choose to use formula or exclusively breastfeed, your baby should be fed breast milk or formula ONLY for about the first six months of life.
Every child is different and develops at a different pace. Some babies may develop quicker and be ready for solid foods around four months of age while some may not be ready until around six months of age.
When determining when to introduce your baby to solid foods, you should also look for these additional signs:
- Ability to hold their head in a steady, upright position
- Ability to sit with support
- Mouthing their hands or toys
- Showing a desire for food by leaning forward and opening mouth
You should consider age, the signs above, and talk with your child’s doctor to determine the best time to begin.
Once your baby is ready, you’ll want to continue breastfeeding or giving formula while also introducing the appropriate complementary foods. You should start simple. Offer your baby single-ingredient foods. Examples include a pureed vegetable or fruit, pureed meat, or a single grain baby cereal that’s mixed with a little breast milk or formula. Don’t add extra sugar or salt to the food. Keep it simple!
You should wait three to five days between each new food introduction in order to see if your baby has any problems with the food, such as an allergy. Milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans are the eight most common allergenic foods. If your baby is having an allergic reaction to a food, they will typically experience diarrhea, vomiting or a rash. If you notice any of these signs contact your child’s doctor.
There’s no need to delay introducing potential allergenic foods to your child unless you have a family history of a particular food allergy. If this is the case, introduce them to a small amount of the food of concern at home, with an oral antihistamine available or wait and talk to your child’s doctor about the best approach for introducing them to the food of concern.
It will take time for your baby to get used to the different textures and tastes of food. If your baby doesn’t seem interested in a certain food at first, don’t panic, don’t force them to eat the food, and don’t give up! They might love pureed carrots but refuse to eat pureed sweet potatoes. Remember, their taste buds are still developing and may change over time.
When you’re first introducing your baby to solid foods, be sure to puree the food. As your baby gets used to eating pureed foods, you can also start to introduce finger foods. Just make sure that the finger foods you offer are soft (easy for them to chew) and easy for them to grab. A great example is a slice of an avocado. Around nine months of age, or once your baby has had a few months of practice and is eating pureed food easily, your baby can start to transition away from smooth pureed food to mashed and chopped food.
As your child is learning to eat, you’ll want to avoid giving them any type of food that could cause them to choke. As your baby continues to grow and develop you will continue to introduce them to different foods. Watch out for foods like whole grapes or globes of nut butter and be sure to watch them while they eat. Even if their food is chopped, if they put too much in their mouth at once, they could potentially choke.
You’ll also want to avoid introducing your baby to cow’s milk or honey during the first year. Unlike breast milk or formula, cow’s milk doesn’t provide the necessary nutrients that your baby needs under the age of one. Honey can cause infant botulism which causes bacteria to grow in your babies intestines which produces a dangerous toxin. Therefore, it’s best to avoid introducing these foods to your child until after the age of one.
Lastly, you’ll want to make feeding time an enjoyable experience for both your baby and yourself. Set a feeding time routine (wash hands, set them in a high chair, put on bib etc) so that your child becomes comfortable with the process of eating. Sit down with your baby and ensure that their feeding environment is distraction free. Avoid letting your baby eat while watching TV or an iPad. You are setting the building blocks of their future eating habits!
Laugh at the funny faces your child makes while trying a new food and have fun with messes they’ll make while exploring different foods! Enjoy it while you can because before long, they’ll be feeding themselves!