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Starting Baby Food
The second half of the first year of life is exciting and fun. Your infant continues to rapidly grow and develop skills that make your baby a “real person”. One of the more exciting changes involves your baby’s diet, which changes from entirely breast milk or formula to a well balanced diet of table foods. Although many parents are anxious about how to introduce baby foods, the process can and should be fun for both you and your baby. The following guidelines are intended to provide the concepts, helpful hints and some of the details you will need to help this process along. Generally, parents who read this entire handout and refer back to it periodically, find that it addresses most of their questions.
When? We recommend starting solids for most babies at 6 months. Some babies will need solids sooner.
How fast? Introduce one new food at a time, adding a new food every 3-4 days, or about 2 new foods per week. If you start solids well before 6 months, there is no need to add new foods this quickly.
When? Start to “teach” the skill of swallowing baby food from a spoon when your baby has an appetite, but isn’t starving and impatient (30 minutes before the baby usually feeds or after offering a small part of the bottle or breast feeding). Avoid times when your baby is exhausted or cranky. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon might be good times, but use your judgment about your schedule. Once your baby masters this new skill, baby food can be offered at the time of a bottle or breast feeding.
How? Use name brand baby foods or steam and puree your own foods. Use a serving spoon to place a small amount on your baby’s plate and use a baby spoon to feed your baby. You can refrigerate any food remaining in the jar for up to two days. Six month olds can usually sit comfortably in a high chair. Younger children should be inclined in an infant seat.
What? Start with cereal (rice or others), then move onto fruits, yellow vegetables (carrots, corn, squash, sweet potato) and green vegetables.
How Much? Start with a small amount, in order to teach your baby to eat from a spoon (use one to two tablespoons of cereal mixed with formula, breast milk, or juice). As soon as your baby learns how to spoon feed well (some babies learn this new skill quickly while others may take several days or weeks to master spoon feeding), add more food until your baby is satisfied or loses patience (they usually turn away from the spoon or refuse to open their mouths). Never encourage your baby to “finish”. The baby may finish the meal with a bottle or breast until eventually meals replace bottle or breast feedings entirely. Start with one meal daily and add a second and third whenever you and your baby are ready.
What Next? At about 7 months, offer yogurt (plain or flavored) and fine cottage cheese (plain or with fruits or vegetables). If you are still only offering 2 meals per day, this may be the right time to offer a third meal. At about 8 months, introduce meat, pasta and bread products. But, offer these foods in small soft pieces (about the size of Cheerios). Once your baby learns how to chew and swallow small pieces, offer cereal, fruits, vegetables and dairy products in pieces. This is when we suggest offering more table food and less baby food. We recommend home cooked meats rather than jarred food and suggest moving from baby food right to soft pieces instead of using stage 2 and 3 foods. At about 10 months start whole eggs and whole milk instead of formula. At about 12 months, fish and all other foods can be added. Honey and syrup should never be given before your baby is one year old. Peanut products should be introduced after age three.
Cups? At about 6 months put 1-2 teaspoonfuls of water or juice in a cup and offer it to your baby. Sippy cups are very popular, but are really modified bottles. We recommend using a plain plastic cup without a lid. Be patient and continue to offer a cup so that your baby eventually gets accustomed to and accomplished at drinking from a cup. The longer you use bottles or sippy cups, the harder it is to make the transition to regular cups.
Weaning? As babies eat more, they usually begin to cut down on milk feedings. If that happens, follow your baby’s lead. If not, stop one bottle every month or two. We recommend that the maximum number of milk bottle feedings should be 3 at 8 months, 2 at 10 months and 1 at 12 months. Keep in mind that a well balanced diet for a toddler includes 2-3 portions of dairy per day. Children who continue drinking 3-4 milk bottles per day, usually begin to refuse other foods as their growth rate slows down in the second year of life. So don’t be afraid to wean bottles. It’s an important step in helping your child learn to eat a well-balanced diet.
What else? These guidelines are not rules. Be flexible. Don’t measure food carefully. It’s food not medicine. Neither you nor your baby should find mealtime stressful. If you remain relaxed and patient, your baby is more likely to enjoy mealtime. As babies get older, they usually want to handle some of their own food. This is the way babies learn to feed themselves. At first, you will be feeding your baby and gradually, your baby will do more with your supervision and assistance. This may not be efficient or neat, but it makes mealtime enjoyable for your baby. Also, take advantage of opportunities to have your baby join the family at mealtime. The social interaction and opportunity to imitate make meals more enjoyable.
Don’t hesitate to call for additional advice. We hope that this information is as helpful to you as it has been to many other parents. We are always available to answer any specific questions that you have about feeding your baby.