For a parent, every milestone their baby reaches is exciting. But for many,
introducing their child to first foods is one of the most eagerly awaited ones.
Naturally, a lot of questions come up regarding this subject: When should I start?
How do I know that my baby is ready? And what should I feed first? To add to the
confusion, if you are not a first-time parent and had a baby several years ago, you
may be surprised to find out that the recommendations for introducing babies to
solids have changed based on recent studies and updated research.
While for decades doctors recommended to wait with the introduction to foods until
a baby has reached 6 months of age and to introduce allergens such as peanuts, egg and fish no sooner than the child’s 1st birthday, pediatricians now suggest to
introduce most foods between 4 to 6 months.
There are a number of different reasons for this “new” advice pediatricians are
Most significantly, new research now suggests that introducing foods between a
baby’s 4th and 6th month of life may actually reduce the risk of allergies. It is also
thought that babies who are introduced to foods within this time frame will be more
willing to try a variety of foods and flavors.
Introducing foods before your baby has reached 4 months of age is generally not
recommended. The baby’s digestive system is still very immature at this point and
not ready to process foods other than breastmilk or formula.
As adults, eating and swallowing is as natural to us as breathing, so we do not even spend a thought on all the things involved; from the movement of the mouth and tongue, to producing saliva and enzymes, as well as the functioning of liver, kidney and intestines - all these need to work together correctly to process food. Occasionally, some pediatricians suggest thickening the baby’s milk with cereal to help with severe reflux in younger babies, but this should only happen in accordance with your pediatrician’s advice.
Waiting longer than 6 months is generally not recommended either. In terms of
nutritional needs, breast milk or formula will still be the baby’s most important
source of nutrition until they are about 6 months old.
However, milk alone may not continue to meet the growing baby’s nutritional needs
and provide adequate amounts of calories and nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin
C, protein and carbohydrates.
In addition to that, learning the mechanisms of eating and chewing is an important
skill for babies and they may become more likely to reject certain flavors or textures
if you wait until your baby is much older.
So how do you know when the right time has come to give your baby the first taste of grown-up food within that 4-6 month time window?
Since every baby is different and they don’t come with an instruction manual
(wouldn’t that be awesome, though?) there is no one-size-fits-all advice for when to
start feeding your baby solids.
There are, however, a number of things to look out for to help you determine when
he or she is ready:
- Your baby is able to sit on his or her own and hold the head steady.
- Your baby shows interest in mealtimes, watching people eat, or even trying to reach for food or utensils.
- Your baby is able to “ask” for food by leaning forward, opening the mouth or grabbing the spoon.
- Your baby is able to signal when he or she is full by turning the head to the side, leaning back or pushing the spoon away.
- Your baby has doubled his or her birth weight and weighs at least 13-15 lbs.
- Your baby still seems hungry between milk feedings, even though he or she is drinking 32 oz of milk or more per day, or drinking from both breasts 8-10 times a day.
Before introducing your baby to any solid foods (The term “solids” when talking
about baby nutrition actually refers to most foods beyond milk, even if they are in a
pureed form and do not look “solid” at all. This includes vegetables, fruits, cereal,
meat, bread, etc.), you should always check with your baby’s doctor. Your
pediatricianmay have some specific advice based on your baby’s development,
medical history, and risk of allergies.
Once you decided the big day has come, pick a time when you and your baby are
stress-free and relaxed.
This may mean that you switch off the tv, put your phone on silent, equip yourself
with un-breakable dishes and baby-friendly spoons and clothes that you don’t mind
getting food stains on.
If it works for your schedule, I usually recommend trying out a new food during the
daytime, as opposed to at night. That way, if something does not agree with your
baby and causes a reaction or an upset stomach, you will notice it right away, it
won’t end up in a sleepless night for the both of you, and if necessary, it will be
easier to contact a doctor.
There are a lot of foods that are great options for a baby’s first meal. Many parents
choose based on availability, their own preferences, cultural background and their
doctor’s advice. Regardless of which food you pick, it is recommended that you start with a single ingredient and offer this same food for about three days. This “three day rule” will make it easier to observe your child’s reaction to the food, and if an adverse reaction occurs, you will have no trouble to identify the culprit.
Please discuss your family’s history of allergies and eczema with your pediatrician
for advice on when to introduce allergens into your baby’s diet.
Do not be disappointed if for the first few times, the baby makes a “disgusted” face
or pushes the food out of the mouth. This is called the tongue thrusting reflex and
completely normal. It is a natural reflex that protects the baby from choking. They
still have to learn how to move food from the front to the back of the mouth! If the
baby continues to push out food after several days, it maybe a good idea to wait a
little longer and then try again in a week or so.
If your baby does not eat much at first, it is no reason for concern. At this stage, you are not yet trying to replace breast milk or formula with solid foods. Rather, think of it as your baby “experimenting”, developing eating skills and discovering a variety of flavors and have fun with it!
If you are looking for inspiration and insight on which foods to choose for your
baby’s first meal, how to prepare and combine different foods to make the most out
of their nutrients, or how to identify allergies and avoid choking hazards, stay tuned
for our future blog posts!
*Disclaimer: this article is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is to be viewed as opinion and not a replacement for advice by your pediatrician. If you have any serious concerns about your child’s health, please always contact your child’s doctor*