So you finally have the hang of this whole nursing/formula-feeding thing. Guess what? It’s time to start your baby on solids.
Feeding your baby real, actual food throws a whole other wrench into your schedule and also brings up a million questions: How do I get started? What do I feed my baby? Is meat OK? How about milk or dairy? And most importantly: How do I get to the goal of having my baby eating well by the one-year mark?
While the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t provide a handy checklist for parents (believe us, we looked for it), there are some good general guidelines that parents can rely on, says Dr. Clay Stallworth, a pediatrician with the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. “But the main thing I try to communicate to parents is to just relax. Your kids have a hunger and thirst mechanism so they will ask for what they need to live and grow and be healthy. Our job is just to be there and help them a little on the way.”
A Parents’ Q&A to Starting Solids
So when do I start feeding solids to my baby?
Some say four months, some say six months, and some say whenever your baby shows an interest in food. The answer? All of the above. “The magic window is four to six months,” said Stallworth. Any earlier, and your child won’t have the coordination or the intestinal fortitude to handle solid foods. But don’t wait too much past the six-month mark: “By six months, your child’s nutritional needs go up and you’re not going to be able to give them adequate nourishment from just nursing or formula feeding.”
How often do I feed solids? And how does it all coordinate with my nursing/bottle schedule?
Start out with one to two “meals” a day and go from there. If you begin your baby on solids at four months, he or she may be ready for three meals at six months, but adjust this accordingly.
The best way to time the meals is to what makes the household run well, advises Stallworth. For instance, if you typically breastfeed your child when he or she wakes at 6:30 a.m., you may want to try feeding breakfast when you yourself are having breakfast at 8 a.m. “One of the most important things you can do is to have a family mealtime, even at this young age,” said Stallworth. “That will help model good eating behaviors for your child.”
Some children happily scarf down food even on a full belly of milk; others will be hungry for solids only if you offer them first, before nursing/bottle feeding. Do a little trial and error to see what your mini-gourmet prefers.
What foods can my baby eat?
As a general rule of thumb, parents should start their babies on fruits and vegetables first, followed by meat at around 6 to 9 months (meat is important because it will provide needed iron; offer it twice a week to start). Iron-enriched infant cereals mixed with breastmilk or formula are also a common first food.
Fruit or vegetables? The research shows that it really doesn’t matter if you do vegetables or fruit first (yes, starting with fruit won’t make your child refuse less sweet vegetables later on).
Consistency? Stage 1 foods (for children 4 to 6 months) have a smooth pureed consistency; Stage 2 foods (for children 6 to 8 months) have a thicker pureed consistency; and Stage 3 foods (for children 8 to 10 months) have a chunkier consistency. If you prepare and puree your own foods, it’s a good idea to buy a jar or two just to get an idea of the consistency you need.
Quantity? Start off by offering one to two tablespoons and go from there. More is fine if your child wants it. Also, invest in an ice cube tray or two. Whether you’re making your own food or buying jars, this will allow you to freeze portions and make the most out of the food you make or buy for your baby.
Allergenic foods? Offer a food over three consecutive feedings to make sure your child isn’t allergic; if he or she develops hives, tongue or lip swelling or shows respiratory distress, call your doctor and don’t offer the food again until your doctor OKs it, since children will often grow out of food allergies.
Organic? Organic foods are really just a matter of parental preference, says Stallworth. Cost is also another factor as these foods tend to be more expensive.
Foods to avoid? Most advise holding off on cow’s milk until a child is a year old, primarily so that parents don’t swap in cow’s milk for the more nutritious breast milk or formula. But feel free to start yogurt (unsweetened plain yogurt is best) as early as 9 months. Honey should also be avoided until your child is a year old due to risk of botulism.