Ready for Real Food
By the time your infant is 4 months old, you've probably got your breastfeeding or formula drill down to an art. But don't get too comfortable -- your child will soon be ready for "real" food, and you'll have baby-food jars monopolizing the pantry, messy faces at every meal, and spoons that become airplanes and choo-choo trains. But there's no reason to stress; with a little patience you and your baby will quickly get the hang of feeding time.
Feeding your baby anything but breast milk or formula too soon can increase her risk of food allergies and obesity. So wait until she's 4 to 6 months old before you introduce solids. At this age her digestive system is probably ready to handle complex foods. Age isn't the only thing to consider: Your baby needs to be able to hold her head up and sit with minimal support, and she should have lost her tongue-thrust reflex, which makes her push food out of her mouth to prevent choking. If she seems curious about the food you're eating, reaches for your dinner, or stares you down as you spoon soup into your mouth, it's a sign she's ready to add new tastes and textures to her diet.
Start with Rice Cereal
Your baby's first food should be rice cereal because it's iron-fortified and easily digestible. (Besides, babies are rarely allergic to it.) Begin with one or two feedings a day, choosing times when your child isn't tired or cranky and you're relaxed too. Mix enough breast milk or formula with 1 to 2 teaspoons of cereal to create a semi-liquid, and feed him small amounts using a silicone-tipped spoon. Have a napkin handy because, at first, most of the meal will end up on his chin. But resist the temptation to give up and pour the diluted cereal into a bottle. "The point is to get your baby used to a different type of eating," says W. Allan Walker, MD, director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School, in Boston. "Although it's sloppy and frustrating, you need to go through this process."
Don't force your baby to continue eating if he shakes his head no, turns away, or refuses to open up after only one mouthful. And if he seems completely uninterested in trying cereal, just wait a week or so and try again.
As your child gets used to rice cereal, you can thicken it and give him larger servings. Still, don't stop feeding him breast milk or formula -- he needs at least 24 ounces, or about four to six feedings a day, in order to get all of his nutrients.