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Introducing Solid Foods to Baby

Doctors suggest starting a baby on solid foods sometime between 4 and 7 months of age. Some babies are ready for solids as early as 3 months, but it's not recommended; the earlier a baby gets started on solids, the more likely that she'll be prone to food allergies later on.

At the beginning, solid foods will just be a supplement to your child's primary source of nutrition -- breast milk or formula. So there's no need to worry if you haven't gotten your baby started on solids yet or if he's not eating as much solid food as you'd like.

It's important to determine whether your baby is ready for solids before you introduce them. Here are some signs of your baby's readiness:

  • Your baby's tongue-thrust reflex is gone or diminished. This natural reflex, which prevents infants from choking on foreign objects, also causes them to push food out of their mouths.
  • Your baby can support her own head. Even if your baby can't quite sit up on her own yet, she needs to be able to hold her head up in order to start eating solids.
  • Your baby seems interested in food. If she's eying the food you're eating, reaching out to grab your food, or licking her lips when she smells new foods, she's probably craving the variety that comes with starting solids.

If you have a family history of food allergies, your baby is more likely to have them, too. In that case, you might want to consider waiting until 6 or 7 months before starting solids. Allowing your baby's digestive system to mature further may help reduce her chances of developing food allergies. You may also want to wait a bit longer than usual if your baby was born prematurely; premature babies often need more time to master the suck-swallow-breathe pattern necessary to handle solid foods.

Since your baby will still be getting regular feedings of breast milk or formula, solid foods are just "extras" for now. Keep this time fun and relaxed. After all, you now have the privilege of introducing your baby to the rewards of enjoying good food -- rewards she'll hopefully enjoy for the rest of her life.

It's best to start with rice cereal for your baby's first taste of solids. Here's how to give your baby his first taste of rice cereal:

1. Sit your baby upright, either in an infant seat or propped in a highchair with towels, blankets, and bibs. If she seems a bit scared by the experience, you can try moving her onto your lap.

2. Give your baby something to hold, such as a baby spoon or a soft bread crust. This will give her something to focus on, which might free you to get a spoonful of something into her mouth.

3. Place a baby spoon (or a small coffee spoon if the baby spoon seems too large), with about 1/4 teaspoon of rice cereal on it, close to your baby's lips. Give her a minute to smell and taste it. Don't be concerned if this first taste is rejected. Just wait a minute and try again. Expect that most of the food on the spoon will wind up on your baby's chin or bib. Once her face and bib is covered in food, don't forget to take some adorable pictures to record the milestone!

4. Finish your baby's feeding with breast milk or formula to satisfy her hunger. Fight the urge to put food into your baby's bottle. He needs to make the connection that tasty foods are to be eaten sitting up and from a spoon. This early experience will help lay the foundation for good eating habits throughout her life.

Don't force the issue if your baby cries or turns away when you're trying to feed him. It's more important that you both enjoy this experience than it is to make sure that you stick to an arbitrary timetable. Go back to nursing or bottlefeeding exclusively for a week or two, then try again.

If your baby's first feeding goes successfully, try giving him rice cereal in the same manner once a day for the next few days. Each feeding, you can increase the amount you're feeding him.

Now that you've introduced a new food to your child, it's important that you keep your eyes open for signs of a food allergy. Signs that your child is allergic to the rice cereal include:

  • Bloating of the stomach
  • Increased gas
  • A rash around her mouth or anus
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose or eyes
  • Unusual crankiness

If your child seems fine after three to four days, you can consider introducing a second food, such as oat or barley cereal. Once your baby has mastered these, try introducing ground vegetables, fruits, and meats -- in that order.

Always wait several days after feeding your baby a new food so that you can pinpoint any allergic reactions he may have. If you suspect your child is showing signs of a food allergy, speak to your doctor right away.

Whether you plan to server your baby commercially prepared baby foods or ones you make at home, there are some general guidelines you should follow:

Prepared baby foods

  • Do not feed your baby directly from the jar unless you know she'll finish the whole thing. Bacteria from your baby's mouth can contaminate the remaining food.
  • Throw away jars of baby food within a day or two of opening them.

Homemade baby foods

  • Consider steaming, baking, broiling, or microwaving foods for your baby rather than frying or boiling -- these cooking methods retain more of a food's natural nutrients.
  • Avoid preparing beets, turnips, carrots, collard greens, and spinach. In some parts of the country, these vegetables may contain large amounts of nitrates and can lead to anemia in babies.
  • Don't feed your baby egg whites, cow's milk, or honey until she is at least 1 year old.
  • Avoid citrus fruits, such as oranges or lemons. These fruits are very acidic and can result in painful diaper rash.

If you are uncertain about any food, check with your doctor before giving it to your baby.

Sources: American Medical Association; Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Bantam)

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.