When can babies start eating solid food?
At what age can babies be able to digest solid food? Are they old enough to be weaned? Or they just don’t have a mother to breastfeed them?
Feeding your baby his or her first solid food is a major milestone. But even if it is time, are they ready to start on solid food?
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months after birth is highly recommended. In the absence of breastmilk, baby formula is the only food your newborn needs
But by ages 4 months to 6 months, most babies are ready to begin eating solid foods as a complement to breastfeeding or formula. Babies begin to develop the coordination to move solid food from the front of the mouth to the back for swallowing.
The switch from liquid and semi-solid to solid food is a gradual process.
- Start simple: Offer single-ingredient foods that contain no sugar or salt.
Wait three to five days between each new food to see if your baby has a reaction, such as diarrhoea, a rash or vomiting.
- Important nutrients: Iron and zinc are important nutrients in the second half of your baby’s first year. These nutrients are found in pureed meats and single-grain, iron-fortified cereal.
- Baby cereal basics: Mix 1 tablespoon of a single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal with 4 tablespoons of breast milk. Help your baby sit upright and offer the cereal with a small spoon once or twice a day after a bottle- or breast-feeding. Once your baby gets the hang of swallowing runny cereal, mix it with less liquid and gradually increase the serving sizes.
- Add vegetables and fruits: Gradually introduce single-ingredient pureed vegetables and fruits that contain no sugar or salt. Wait three to five days between each new food.
By ages 8 – 10 months, most babies can handle small portions of finely chopped finger foods, such as soft fruits, vegetables, pasta, cheese, well-cooked meat, baby crackers and dry cereal.
Babies may reject their first servings of pureed foods because the taste and texture are new. If your baby refuses the feeding, don’t force it. Try again some other time. If the challenge continues, talk to your baby’s doctor to make sure the resistance isn’t a sign of a problem.
Is it possible for the baby to have food allergies?
It is possible to notice that a baby has an allergy when they start eating solid food. Postponing the introduction of highly allergenic foods, such as peanuts, eggs and fish, hasn’t been shown to prevent eczema, asthma, allergic rhinitis and food allergy. In fact, early introduction of certain foods, such as peanuts and eggs, might decrease the risk of allergy to that food.
Still, especially if any close relatives have a food allergy, give your child his or her first taste of a highly allergenic food at home — rather than at a restaurant — with an oral antihistamine available. If there’s no reaction, the food can be introduced in gradually increasing amounts.
Don’t give juice to your baby until after age 1. It can lead to diarrhoea and even tooth decay.
Know what’s off-limits
Certain foods aren’t appropriate for babies. Consider these guidelines:
- Don’t offer cow’s milk or honey before age 1. Cow’s milk doesn’t meet an infant’s nutritional needs — it isn’t a good source of iron — and can increase the risk of iron deficiency. Honey might contain spores that can cause a serious illness known as infant botulism.
- Don’t offer foods that can cause your baby to choke. As your baby progresses in eating solid foods, don’t offer hot dogs, chunks of meat or cheese, grapes, raw vegetables, or fruit chunks, unless they’re cut up into small pieces. Also, don’t offer hard foods, such as seeds, nuts, popcorn and hard candy that can’t be changed to make them safe options. Other high-risk foods include peanut butter and marshmallows.
Another reason to avoid giving your baby solid food before age 4 months is the risk associated with certain home-prepared foods. A baby younger than age 4 months shouldn’t be given home-prepared spinach, beets, carrots, green beans or squash. These foods might contain enough nitrates to cause blood disorder methemoglobinemia.
What to do when babies start eating solid food
During feedings, talk to your baby and help him or her through the process. To make mealtime enjoyable:
- Stay seated. As soon as your baby can sit easily without support, use a highchair with a broad, stable base. Buckle the safety straps.
- Encourage exploration. Your baby is likely to play with his or her food. Make sure that finger foods are soft, easy to swallow and broken down into small pieces.
- Introduce utensils. Offer your baby a spoon to hold while you feed him or her with another spoon. As your baby’s dexterity improves, encourage your baby to use a spoon.
- Use a cup. Feeding your baby breast milk or formula from a cup at mealtimes can help pave the way for weaning from a bottle. Around age 9 months, your baby might be able to drink from a cup on his or her own.
- If you feed your baby directly from a jar or container, saliva on the spoon can quickly spoil leftovers. Instead, place servings in a dish. Opened jars of baby food can be safely refrigerated for two to three days.
- If your baby turns away from a new food, don’t push. Simply try again another time. Repeated exposure can create variety in your baby’s diet.
- When your baby has had enough to eat, he or she might cry or turn away. Don’t force extra bites. As long as your baby’s growth is on target, he or she is likely getting enough to eat. Also, don’t try to get your baby to eat as much as possible at bedtime to get him or her to sleep through the night. There’s no evidence that this works.
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