Making the transition from breast or bottle to solid foods can be a bittersweet time for parents. Although they are excited to watch their baby grow and reach new milestones, some parents may also experience a bit of sadness as their little one inches closer to becoming a toddler.
In addition, many parents are unsure of how to start their baby on solid foods, and they grow anxious about the transition. Having a clear understanding of what to expect during this stage of the baby’s development can make the transition to sold foods easier and less stressful for parents.
Introducing Babies To Solid Foods
Breast milk or formula should be your baby’s sole source of nutrition for the first 6 months. Some doctors do recommend starting a baby out on solid foods as early as 4 months of age; however, most prefer to wait until baby reaches the 6 month mark. Breast milk and formula are not only the perfect nutritional supplement for growing babies, but they are also gentle on their immature digestive systems, which are not yet ready to handle solid foods.
(For tips on storing breast milk for your baby, read The Best Tips And Advice For Storing Breast Milk.)
When Are Babies Ready For Solid Foods
All babies develop at their own pace. While some may begin to display signs of feeding readiness at 5 months of age, others may not exhibit those signs until they are closer to the 6 month mark. There are some very specific signs that parents can look for that suggests their baby is ready to begin eating solid foods, such as:
- Baby has head control
- Baby can sit upright with support
- Baby stops pushing food out of his mouth with his tongue
- Baby is able to move food to the back of his mouth
- Baby has doubled his birth weight
- Baby does not appear to be satisfied with liquids; still hungry after drinking
- Baby shows an interest in the foods you’re eating; may reach for them
Best First Foods
The first step in feeding your baby solid foods is learning which foods are suitable for the first feedings. Baby cereal is a popular first choice for many parents. Although rice cereal is the most commonly used for first feedings, some prefer to start with single-grain oats or barley because they contain more nutrients than rice cereal. When giving cereal for the first time, the consistency should be very runny, almost like a thick liquid. Mix one tablespoon of baby cereal flakes with 4 tablespoons of breast milk or formula. Add more liquid until the proper consistency is met. As your baby grows accustomed to eating the cereal this way, you can gradually decrease the amount of liquid added to thicken the cereal.
(If you're looking for information on homemade baby food, read The Benefits Of Homemade Baby Food.)
Baby fruits and vegetables can be offered as a first food or after baby has mastered cereal. Always start with single fruits rather than combination fruits. This is important when introducing new foods, as babies can have allergic reactions to various foods. Offer the same fruit or vegetable for 4-5 days and if no reaction occurs, move on to another food. You can purchase premade fruits and vegetables that are already pureed for babies, or you can cook your own at home and puree them in a food processor. Popular first fruits and vegetables include:
- Sweet potatoes
After your baby has tried cereals, fruits and vegetables, you can offer him pureed meats. When your baby reaches the 8 to 10 month mark and has mastered these stage one foods, you can move on to finely chopped, soft foods that he can pick up with his fingers. Examples of good finger foods for baby include:
- Bits of soft fruits such as bananas and plums
- Saltine crackers
- Graham crackers
- Macaroni and cheese
- Toast with butter
Foods To Avoid
Just as important as what foods your baby can eat at this stage, is what foods your baby cannot eat. There are some foods that are strictly off limits for your baby until he is older. These include:
- Honey, if your baby is under the age of 1(contains dangerous spores that can lead to the development of infant botulism, a serious illness)
- Peanut butter (highly allergenic)
- Nuts of any type (highly allergenic)
- Citrus fruits (can cause diaper rash)
- Cow’s milk (not enough nutrients for baby)
- Grapes, hot dogs or other small, hard foods (choking hazard)
- Popcorn (choking hazard)
- Shellfish (highly allergenic)
Invest in a good feeding seat. This can be a standard high chair, a booster seat that attaches to the table, or any number of infant seats that allow baby to sit up. Although you can feed him on your lap for now, doing so can be messy and gives you less control over the feeding.
If your baby gives you a hard time with eating, try giving him a small spoon to hold while you feed him with another spoon. This can distract him, but also serves as a first step towards encouraging self-feeding.
Always pour a small amount of baby food into a separate container. You can’t always predict your baby’s appetite ahead of time. Once your baby’s spoon enters his mouth and returns to the jar, the food in the jar becomes contaminated with his saliva, which harbors bacteria. These bacteria can spoil the food over time. To avoid having to throw away half eaten jars of food, spoon half the jar into a bowl and add more as needed.
Knowing When Your Baby Has Had Enough
Your baby’s appetite will not be the same after every feeding. Many factors other than hunger can influence how much he eats, such as:
- Being tired
- Skipping a nap
- Distracted by surroundings
- Change in normal feeding environment (at a restaurant of grandparents house)
When your baby has had enough of his food, he will likely display signs of disinterest. Your baby may push his head back and away from the food, turn his head to the side when the spoon approaches his mouth or keep his mouth sealed tightly shut. Don’t ever try to force your baby to eat. If he is no longer interested in eating, even if he has not finished or has eaten less than he normally does, stop feeding him and continue with your normal routine.
Continuing With Breast Milk Or Formula
Even after you have introduced your baby to solid foods, he will need to continue drinking breast milk or formula until he reaches one year of age. Solid foods do not provide enough vitamins and healthy nutrients for your baby. In fact, solid foods at this age are more of a practice exercise in eating than they are a nutritional value. Breast milk and formula are rich in iron, easy-to-absorb proteins and healthy vitamins and minerals. The nutrients provided in breast milk and formula cannot be duplicated in solid foods during baby’s first year.
Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits
It’s never too early to start teaching your baby about the importance of eating healthy foods. Babies are like little sponges, and they are constantly observing all that goes on around them. The more fresh, whole foods you offer to your baby, the more he will grow accustomed to eating that way.
Instead of reaching for a jar of pureed bananas, try mashing up a banana and mixing it with a tiny amount of breast milk or formula for your baby’s first feeding. Make your own baby food as often as possible.
Speak to your baby about the foods he is eating while you are feeding him. Talk about healthy food choices, and describe the health benefits of the foods he is eating. For example, when feeding him carrots, say something like “Open up and eat your carrots, they are good for you.” This type of communication from an early age will set the stage for developing lifelong healthy eating habits in your baby.