By Lisa Pecos
For several months following birth, breast milk (or formula) is the only food that your child needs. It is only a matter of time, however, before your child begins to develop cravings for solid food. As muscle coordination develops and the baby’s nutritional needs begin to change, the transition from an all-liquid diet to a mixed one becomes inevitable. Moving to solid foods is a big step, but the good news is that it usually comes naturally, so you will not have to force it.
When to start solid foods
Most babies eat their first solid foods at around four to six months of age. Until this point, babies do not have the muscle coordination to control solid food in the mouth, so liquid food is the only possibility. But once the baby gets a little older, a few important things start to happen:
• The baby develops muscles and coordination in the jaw, increasing the amount of control she has over things in her mouth.
• The baby’s neck and back muscles strengthen to the point where they can sit up in a chair (unsupported sitting up comes a little later).
• While babies do not develop teeth until they are around a year old, hardening of the gums at around the 4-month mark makes it easier to consume pureed solids.
• Babies who are almost ready to start solid foods often become interested in what their parents are eating.
• Babies at this age often know instinctively (or learn very quickly) to open their mouths when you present a spoon.
If you notice two or three of these developments occurring, talk to your doctor or dietitian about whether it is time to start introducing solid foods. Of course, at this stage solid foods will be used just as a complement to breast milk or formula. It will be some time before the baby can chew grown-up food that has not been specially prepared. Plus, doctors recommend that breastfeeding continue until at least the one-year mark.
Acceptable early foods
Since babies cannot chew until later on, early solid foods have to be specially prepared. Here are a few types of foods that many parents start with:
• Baby cereal: Try mixing one tablespoon of single-grain baby cereal into about four to five tablespoons of formula or breast milk. Sit the baby upright and feed it to her in small spoonfuls. If she takes to it, you can begin to increase the amount of cereal in the milk. Some babies love cereal right from the start, while others need some time to get used to it.
• Pureed fruits and vegetables: After your baby becomes comfortable with cereal, it is time to start introducing single-ingredient pureed vegetables and fruits. You can make these on your own or get them from the store. The benefit of using single-ingredient foods is that you can watch for allergies or other negative reactions to certain ingredients.
• Finger foods finely chopped: At around the 10-month mark, many babies can handle foods such as soft fruits or cheese without having them pureed. Once she becomes good at eating these foods, you can begin to expand her menu, eventually offering her chopped or pureed versions of the family meals.
• Juice: Mild juices made of 100-percent fruit are acceptable once the baby reaches 6 months of age, although juice should not be a central part of the baby’s diet. Non-juice fruit is much more nutritionally valuable.
A few foods to avoid during this month are cow’s milk, citrus fruits, honey, or choking hazards such as grapes, nuts, and raisins. For more specifics about what is and is not acceptable, talk to your family doctor.