Everyone has that traditional highchair shot with food smeared across the face and every surface within arm’s reach. Starting solids is a rite of passage for every baby and parent. Read on to learn how to know when baby is ready and how to navigate this new territory.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Meaning no other supplementation or ingestion of anything else (i.e., water, non-human milk, juice, etc.), aside from vitamins, minerals or medications. Recent studies have shown that an infant’s gastrointestinal tract is not fully matured enough to properly digest and utilize solid foods until they are between six-eight months old.
With this in mind, babies do not fit into a perfect mold. They will mature and grow at varying rates. Just because your friend insists that your baby needs to eat at four months old because her baby did, does not mean that your baby will show interest at that age. Watch your child for their own signs of readiness and progress.
Signs of readiness
Your infant may be ready for food if….
• They sit unassisted and can hold their head up. If you are having to recline the highchair to feed them, that is a good sign they aren’t quite ready.
•They have doubled their birth weight.
•They are able to indicate, while nursing or taking a bottle, that they are full by turning away from the source. This shows they can recognize when they are full and are able to self-regulate intake to prevent overeating.
• They do not push food out with their tongue or allow it to just dribble back out. They try to work it around and down.
• Your once perfect sleeper is suddenly waking often. Be careful to not confuse this sign with growth spurts that occur in most babies between three-four months, six-seven months and nine-ten months of age. They could also be waking due to illness or teething, so this is not a crystal-clear sign.
• Showing interest in what you are eating. Again, not a crystal-clear sign as babies around four-six months have a natural interest to stick everything around them in their mouths. When their eyes trace from your plate to your mouth and they simulate chewing like you, chances are there is interest.
First steps of solid food
When you have determined that your baby is indeed ready to begin food now comes the challenge of what to try first. In the past the recommendation has almost always been to start with commercially-boxed infant cereals. However, foods such as avocado, banana, sweet potato and pears are great first food picks for their nutritionally rich properties.
When baby is ready for their first meal, feed them a small amount of their normal liquid (breastmilk or formula) so that they are not going in ravenously hungry which will increase the likelihood of rejection. On the flip side, you don’t necessarily want them completely full as there will be little interest as well.
Once you introduce a new food, you will want to wait about 4 days before introducing another food. This will give time for you to detect any signs of allergy such as diarrhea, rash and vomiting. If there is no reaction, introduce another food continuing on until they have a healthy variety of fruits and vegetables.
As you begin this process, remember that breastmilk/formula will remain your baby’s primary source of nutrition until they have reached a year old. Solid foods will only be a supplement to this diet. When baby is between six and eight months of age, they should be getting two-three servings of food. This will increase to about three-four times a day between nine and 24 months.
Ideally your baby should have a well-rounded diet of breastmilk/formula, fruits, vegetables, meats, cereals, egg and fish within a few months of starting solids.