To feed solids, or not to feed solids: That is the question. While it might not be as philosophical as the conundrum posed by Shakespeare so many hundreds of years ago, the great baby food debate is alive and well — and still confusing parents on a daily basis.
Yes, there are tons of issues to worry about when introducing your baby to solid foods (namely allergies, digestive issues and choking hazards), but everyone eats — so does it have to be so dang hard?
A handful of easy tips can help take some of the guesswork out of getting your baby off the bottle, but the most important thing is to check with your pediatrician before starting. Dr. Douglas C. Curtiss, Yale-trained pediatrician, dyslexia expert and co-founder of Dyslexic AND UN-Stoppable, reminds new parents that a pediatrician should give the first OK before considering the American Academy of Pediatrics' general guidelines of starting solids at 6 months old.
So when your pediatrician has given the OK, and your baby has reached the safe zone of 6 months of age, what’s next? Curtiss says that the most common signs of solid readiness include a child that holds their head up and shows interest in food when parents are eating, opening the mouth when food is brought near. Your little guy or gal should also be able to move food to the back of the throat with the tongue — younger, less mature babies tend to thrust the tongue forward, rather than swallow, Dr. Curtiss explains.
Dr. Danelle Fisher, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, adds, “Babies are ready to start solid foods usually between 4 and 6 months of age. They should have reached three major milestones in order to be ready to start: age 4 months, weight 12 pounds, good head control. Beyond that, a good soft sign that babies are ready to start solids is watching the parents when they eat and seeming curious or moving their mouth. If a parent tries solids and the baby gags or seems uninterested, they should wait a couple of weeks and then try again.”
Here’s one of the most common old wives’ tales that we urge you not to fall prey to — some parents swear by giving a young baby who does not meet the qualifications for solid foods a rice cereal bottle to fill them up and help them sleep through the night. Not only is this a terrible idea because it poses a serious choking hazard for a newborn, but it can destroy a developing digestive tract.
If your child meets the criteria listed by Curtiss and Fisher above and has the approval of their pediatrician, you can move along to the next stage of feeding. “Usually the first food to be introduced is a single grain cereal, such as rice, mixed with breast milk until it is the consistency of pudding and fed on the spoon,” Curtiss explains. “Generally, we start with one meal per day — breakfast or dinner, whichever the parent prefers, though if a parent starts with breakfast, we generally recommend not to do it the very first feeding in the morning. When a baby first wakes, she may be too hungry to try to figure out solids. Better to give her what she is good at (nursing) and then give solids at the second meal.”
For the very first food in the 4- to 6-month window, Fisher says parents can introduce any of the recommended grain cereals, like rice or oatmeal, along with veggies. Fruits are also a popular choice for little babes developing their taste buds for the first time — and they’re easy to mash. “The order in which the foods are introduced does not matter. The most important factor when introducing solids is to try one food once a day for 3 to 5 days to ensure there is no bad reaction (which may include a rash, vomiting or diarrhea),” she says.
Curtiss agrees that the order of the foods is really up to the parent. “There are no studies that say one order is better than others. Some parents say that babies should be given vegetables before fruits so that they don't reject the vegetables, but there really are no studies to prove this.” In the case of a reaction, Curtiss recommends stopping any new food and trying it again in a few weeks to determine if it was the cause of the symptoms.
Remember, once your baby has been given the pediatrician’s approval, you’re ready to go.
Originally published March 2014. Updated June 2017.
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