Feeding your baby solids

When a baby turns four months old she may be ready for solid foods. The type of foods you introduce, and the order they are presented, is important.

Be mindful when introducing your baby to solid foods. Photo credit: Pixabay.
Be mindful when introducing your baby to solid foods. Photo credit: Pixabay.

In the first three months of life, your baby receives all the necessary nutrients they need from either breastmilk or iron-fortified baby formula. But once baby reaches four months, you may begin to see signs that she is becoming interested in other foods. Although the recommendation for infants receiving formula is to begin to look for signs of readiness between four and six months, the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. When babies do reach an appropriate age and show signs of readiness for solid foods, many new parents wonder about what foods, and in which order, to introduce to their baby.

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service recommend starting babies with an iron-fortified infant cereal. These are easily digested and are made with a form of iron that is easier for the infants to absorb than others found in different cereal products. Baby cereals are least likely to cause an allergic reaction in the baby and they contain important nutrients needed for development. Parents should start baby on rice cereal, which is the least likely of the cereals to cause an allergic reaction in the baby. Oat and barley infant cereals can be added at one week intervals after rice cereal. Wait until a baby is eight months or older to introduce wheat cereal because wheat is more likely to cause an allergic reaction than other grains. This risk tolerance decreases at eight or nine months. Serve mixed grain cereals only after the baby has been introduced to each grain separately in order to avoid possible allergic reactions.

Vegetables and fruit can be introduced after the baby readily accepts two to three tablespoons of infant cereal at each meal. Babies often begin eating fruits and vegetables around the age of six months. Both commercially or home-prepared fruits and vegetables can be fed to babies as long as the food is processed to an appropriate texture. As with cereals, fruits and vegetables should be introduced one at a time and at one week intervals to watch for the possibility of reactions to the food. There is no nutritional reason to add solid foods to the diet of the healthy term infant before four to six months of age. In fact, feeding some foods too early can be harmful. Home-prepared infant foods from vegetables (spinach, beets, green beans, squash, carrots, and more) should be avoided until infants are at least three months or older because they can cause nitrate poisoning. Baby food companies test their products for nitrates, so store-bought baby food should be free of these chemicals.

Once your baby has accepted vegetables and fruits, you can add meats to their diet. Lean meat and poultry are preferred for babies. Plain meats can be mixed with a fruit or vegetable to make it more palatable. Remove all bones when serving fish. Do not feed shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tuna steaks, or tilefish to babies or young children. These fish typically contain some level of mercury. Parents should check local fish advisories as well if planning to serve fish to young children. To check for Michigan fish advisories visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Do not introduce egg whites and whole eggs to children less than one year. Egg whites contain substances that may cause allergic reactions in babies. Harmful bacteria can be present on eggs so always cook eggs thoroughly before feeding to children over one year old.

Breastfeeding is recommended solely for the first six months, but once your baby begins to show interest in other food, parents should begin introducing foods to their baby one at a time. This will assure a smooth and enjoyable transition from breastmilk or formula to solid foods.

For more articles on child health and development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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