Welcome to the world of dirty bibs, sticky fingers and faces, and food all over the place! Introducing solid food is certainly an exciting time for you and your little one, but all the information out there can make it a complicated experience. Here are some tips for feeding solid food to make it easier!
Wait for the right time.
Most guidelines suggest introducing solids at 4 months of age, but in truth the margin is pretty wide–you can start feeding your baby solid food between 4-6 months, and even later if he was born premature or has other health conditions. Breast or formula milk is more than capable of sustaining their nutritional needs for the first six months of life (and for breastfeeding advocates, six months is the most recommended length of time to do so exclusively to maximize its benefits).
Observe these key signs of readiness in your infant and get the final go-signal from his pediatrician to introduce solids.
- Strong head and back support.Baby should be able to support his head and neck when seated, and should be able to sit comfortably in his high chair or booster seat.
- Sustained interest in what you’re eating.Baby should stare at, grab, and get excited whenever they see you eating.
- Solid weight gain.Baby’s current weight at this point (at least 4 months old) should be double his original birth weight, or at least clearing the 13-pound mark to be ready for solids.
Walking through the baby food and eating implements aisle of your favorite baby stores is enough to make you lose your appetite. The options seem endless! Before you get overwhelmed and shell out hundreds of dollars on fancy baby food makers, consider that for the first few days, all you really need is a bowl, a spoon, and a place to plunk your kid down in securely. Also, what you need will also depend on the style of feeding you’ll employ (more on that in a bit). Here are some basics you need to cover:
- A soft spoon.Usually silicon or pliant plastic, these spoons are shaped especially for baby’s tiny mouth and won’t pose a risk when bitten. If you can, get the kind that has a heat indicator–it changes color when food is too hot. Grab a pack of 3-5 to start, and you’re good.
- A feeding bowl.Some bowls come with silicon suction bases to prevent baby from sweeping them off the table–handy when you’re trying to minimize the mess.
- Easy-clean plastic bibs or smocks.Cloth ones are harder to wash to get stains out.
- A high chair.Make sure baby can be securely and comfortably strapped on, and the tray offers a wide enough surface.
- Baby food storage.These airtight plastic or glass jars or containers can safely keep extra servings in the freezer or refrigerator. Baby food needs special handling to avoid contamination and spoilage, so get a set of storage gear dedicated to this purpose.
Spoon feeding or baby-led weaning?
It’s up to you. Spoon feeding requires you to slowly feed purees to your baby, while baby-led weaning proponents believe in letting the child explore the food with their own two hands. Soft foods sliced to minimize choking hazards are put within the child’s reach for them to feed themselves under your guidance. If you’re more interested in this approach, you need to do further reading and research on its do’s and don’ts to fully reap the benefits.
Figure out what food to feed first.
If you opt for jarred baby food, check the labels for ones marked appropriate for your child’s age (usually Step or Level 1, or 4-6 months of age). You’ll find these are simple purees of single ingredients–usually a fruit or vegetable–with no added sugar, salt, or any other preservative or flavoring.
Want to make baby food yourself? Follow the same principle. Steam or boil a single fruit or vegetable until soft, then puree in a blender or mash with a fork. You can add a small amount of formula or breast milk to adjust the texture and make it more palatable. Do not add salt or sugar. Some good first foods:
- Sweet potatoes
Also consult your pediatrician about introducing iron-fortified rice or grain cereals. Iron fortification is important, especially for breastfed babies whose iron needs increase at 6 months of age. After a few weeks, meat should slowly be introduced as well–steamed and pureed chicken, turkey, and beef are all good options.
A good rule of thumb to follow is to feed 2-3 small spoonfuls of one food at a time, for about three days straight. This helps your baby get acquainted with the food, while also giving you time to observe for possible allergic reactions. Some believe in alternating sweeter foods with less popular ones to avoid developing a preference for sweets later on, but most doctors will tell you that isn’t true. As long as space out both servings and the type of food accordingly, you’re good.
It’s terrifying to see your baby develop an allergic reaction, but don’t worry because first foods are often safe–it’s rare to develop an allergy to baby cereal, fruits, vegetables, and meat. Observe your baby on solids for the first few weeks, then slowly transition to more allergenic foods like well-prepared fish, eggs, and soy. It’s good to note that if food allergies run in the family (say, your baby’s sibling has a peanut allergy), your baby’s risk increases. If your baby also has skin conditions like eczema, there’s a likelihood that he has a food allergy or intolerance as well.
If so, consult your pediatrician before trying allergenic foods. You may need a specialized feeding plan or program approved by an allergologist.
Know the absolute no-no’s of feeding.
While styles of feeding and even preferences for what foods should be given can vary, there are some universal rules all parents can agree on.
- Honey is potentially fatal for babies under a year old, so under no circumstances should you give your infant any.
- Avoid choking hazards by never putting baby cereal in milk bottles, and feeding to your child in a reclining position. Some doctors might prescribe this in special cases, but you shouldn’t do it without proper guidance.
- When consuming store-bought jarred baby food, transfer a small amount in a bowl before storing leftovers in the fridge. Dipping your baby’s spoon back into the jar after feeding your baby can transfer bacteria into the food, thus contaminating it.
- Never leave a baby unattended while eating, especially when practicing baby-led weaning. Learn how to slice and chop food to minimize choking risk.