You've got a spoon in one hand and a camera in the other: You're ready to feed your baby their first real food! It's an exciting time, but it can also be a bit nerve-wracking for parents. Will your baby open up for the airplane? Is now the right time to try solid food? Is it safe?
Take a deep breath. You've got this. Barbara Marriage, Ph.D., R.D., an Abbott research scientist, registered dietitian and expert in pediatric nutrition, shares her top five tips for how to introduce solids and set your baby on the right track for a lifetime of good nutrition.
1. Introduce Real Foods at Around 6 Months
The decision to transition to solid foods comes down to two things: safety and nutrition. Around six months of age, babies typically develop the ability to 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:
While the exact timing for introducing solids will depend on individual development, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life.
2. Start Slow and Simple
The best first solid foods for your baby include thinned-down purees of iron-enriched, cooked cereal, or vegetables and fruit, Marriage says. At first, try mixing a teaspoon of cereal with 4 to 5 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 themselves early on, often called baby-led weaning, may encourage improved eating patterns and lead to a healthier body weight, according to a review published in Nutrients. Start with small portions — maybe only a tablespoon or two at first — and slowly increase serving sizes to about a quarter cup.
"Babies and children have a very innate sense of how much they need to eat. Let your baby be your guide."
Barbara Marriage, Ph.D., R.D., pediatric research scientist with Abbott
3. Feed on Demand
"One of the important parts of teaching your baby how to eat is following the rule of supply and demand," Marriage 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 longer — it's important to still regularly offer your baby breastmilk or formula. After all, during the beginning stages of the transition, 50% 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. More sweet potatoes and more pears. It's easy to get into a rut when introducing solids. But remember that the foods you feed your baby now can set the stage for the foods they'll eat for the rest of their lives, Marriage says. "You have a small window of opportunity to teach your baby to love healthy foods. Take it."
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 and 15 times. Eating and food preferences are learned behavior, and repeated exposure to different foods will allow your baby to learn the flavor of each food, Marriage 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.
5. Introduce Potentially Allergenic Foods Gradually
Many parents worry about how to introduce solids that may trigger an allergic reaction in their baby, so they end up avoiding foods like eggs, nuts or shellfish. But these foods are all healthy additions to a lifelong balanced diet, Marriage says. The AAP recommends that parents introduce their babies to highly allergenic foods during early life because doing so may actually prevent the development of specific food allergies.
When introducing the top eight allergen foods — milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts — to your baby, Marriage recommends spacing each food apart by a week or more. If you notice any symptoms of food allergies in their 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.
Introducing the right foods early on can set your baby up for a lifetime of good nutrition and health. But take it slow, don't be afraid to experiment with your food offerings, and, most importantly, enjoy this pivotal moment in your baby's developmental journey.
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