You’ve got a spoon in one hand and a camera in the other: You’re ready to feed your baby her first “real” food! It’s an exciting time, but it can also be a bit nerve-wracking for moms. Will your baby open up for the airplane? Is now the right time to try solid food? Is it safe?
Deep breath. You’ve got this. Here, Tama Bloch, RDN, an Abbott research scientist specializing in pediatric nutrition, shares her top five tips for making your baby’s transition to real foods a smooth one that will set the stage for a lifetime of good nutrition.
1. Introduce “Real” Foods at Around 6 Months
The right time to start the transition to solid foods comes down to 1) safety and 2) nutrition. Around six months of age, babies typically develop the ability draw their upper lip around a spoon and transfer food to the back of the mouth. Around this time, they also tend to master sitting up and supporting their head. All of this is necessary to keep babies safe and prevent choking.
However, since babies all develop at slightly different rates, during your baby’s sixth month, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs that your baby is ready for solid foods. Ask yourself:
If your baby shows these signs before reaching six months of age, it’s still important to hold off, unless your pediatrician advises otherwise. Feeding babies solid food too early can be associated with weight gain and unhealthy body fat, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). What’s more, the AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life — and breast-feeding in combination with solids foods until at least age one.
2. Start Slow and Simple
The best first “real” foods for your baby include thinned-down purees of iron-enriched, cooked cereal, or vegetables, and fruit, Bloch says. At first, try mixing a teaspoon of cereal with four to five teaspoons of breastmilk or formula. Start with once-a-day solid-food feedings, and increase to two or three times a day as you both feel comfortable, she says.
Over time, you can decrease the amount of liquid as your baby masters increasingly solid foods like pureed meats. Allowing your baby to feed himself early on, often called baby-led weaning, may encourage improved eating patterns and lead to a healthier body weight, according to a 2012 review published in Nutrients. Start with small portions – maybe only a tablespoon or two at first – and slowly increase serving sizes to about ¼ cup.
3. Feed on Demand
“One of the important parts of teaching your baby how to eat is following the rule of supply and demand,” Bloch says. “Babies and children have a very innate sense of how much they need to eat. Let your baby be your guide.”
Similarly, remember that during the transition to solid foods – which can take around six months or even longer – it’s important to still regularly offer your baby breastmilk or formula. After all, during the beginning stages of the transition, 50 percent or most of your baby’s nutrition will still come from breastmilk or formula, she says.
4. Mix Up Your Menu with Healthy Foods
Sweet potatoes and pears, sweet potatoes and pears. It’s easy to get into a rut. But it’s important to remember that the foods you feed your baby sets the stage for the foods that they will eat for the rest of their lives, Bloch says. “You have a small window of opportunity to teach your baby to love healthy foods. Take it,” she says.
She recommends serving multiple vegetables (even ones you don’t like!) at every meal. Before you rule out a food as a “dislike,” serve it between 10 to 15 times. Eating and food preferences are a learned behavior and repeated exposure to different foods allow the baby to learn the flavor of each food, Bloch says.
And, when varying your menu, it’s best not to migrate foods high in fat, sugar or salt. They can increase children’s preferences for them and negatively impact their eating habits going forward, according to an article published in the The Journal of Nutrition.
5. Introduce Potentially Allergenic Foods Gradually
Many moms, afraid to trigger an allergic reaction in their baby, avoid feeding them foods like eggs, nuts or shellfish. But doing so is important because they are all healthy additions to a lifelong balanced diet, Bloch says. And a 2015 consensus statement published in the journal Pediatrics recommended that parents introduce their babies to highly allergenic foods during early life, as research suggests that doing so may actually prevent the development of specific food allergies.
When introducing the top eight allergen foods including milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, tree nuts and peanuts to your baby, Bloch recommends spacing each food apart by a week or more. If you notice any symptoms of food allergies in response to a meal, such as coughing, swelling or a rash, talk to your baby’s healthcare provider right away, she says. Together you will be able to determine if there are any food allergies and set your baby on the right track for a lifetime of good nutrition and health.