Although breast feeding and bottle feeding can feel exhausting at times, at least there’s no choice involved – it’s milk, or milk! At some point, your baby will be ready for food that isn’t purely liquid. But how do you know when and what to feed them?
How do I know if my baby’s ready for solids?
This is entirely dictated by your baby’s development. Your baby needs to have reached a certain stage of development to be physically able to cope with the swallowing process needed for more solid nutrition. Don’t forget that it’s a gradual process. From four to six months of age, your baby will be able to move thicker mixtures from the front of the mouth to the back, so that food may be swallowed safely without choking. Here’s a checklist to see if your baby is ready to take the next step to more solid foods:
- My baby is between 4 and 6 months old
- My baby holds his / her head steadily in an upright position
- My baby is able to sit (with support)
- My baby is showing interest in what I eat
When you can answer yes to all of these questions, it’s safe to begin offering ‘solids’. If you’re not sure, or not happy about making the decision on your own, simply continue feeding liquids and get your medical provider to check out your baby and give you the go-ahead.
Don’t stop giving your baby breast milk or formula. Keep those going as normal but begin to offer the following, on a baby spoon:
Baby cereal: Mix 1 teaspoon (5ml) of baby cereal (such as rice cereal or a single grain type, fortified with iron) with 4 or 5 teaspoons (20 – 25 ml) of expressed breast milk or formula.
At this stage, the cereal will only just thicken the liquid. Don’t be tempted to give it to your baby in a bottle and don’t thicken it more. This is very early days and you’re trying to get your baby used to two things:
1. Swallowing something other than a liquid.
2. Taking nutrition from a spoon rather than drinking it from a bottle.
Once you are sure that your baby is confidently managing this, you can gradually mix it with a little less liquid. You can now start ringing the changes with oatmeal (single grain) or barley cereal. Some babies guzzle their food straight away but others need a fair bit of persuasion, persistence and coaxing. Don’t be discouraged if your baby falls into the second category. It’s very common and you just need to persevere. However, if your baby really isn’t interested and becomes distressed, it could be that the time just isn’t right yet. Wait a week and then try again.
Once you baby is completely happy with cereal, it’s time to move up a step to pureed meats, vegetables and fruit. When you first start, only offer one type at a time, so that if your baby has a reaction to that food, you’ll know what is causing it. Reactions could vary from diarrhea, a rash or even vomiting.
This is where the fun really begins! From the age of 8 to 10 months, most babies can manage carefully selected finger foods. Offer small portions, cut to a size that the baby can hold and squash into their own mouth! Have a good supply of bibs ready! Try soft fruits and pasta that has been well cooked beyond the ‘al dente’ stage. You could also offer a small amount of pureed mashed potato in a bowl instead of on a spoon. The same goes for pureed carrot. Just remember to only offer one sort of food for a week and then if that is well tolerated, you can add in another type. This way of feeding should continue up until your baby’s first birthday. By then, you should be able to puree up a portion of whatever the rest of the family is eating – but stay clear of chili and curry for obvious reasons! Continue to offer your baby breast milk or formula with each meal and in between.
It used to be thought that offering babies eggs, fish or peanut butter would ‘encourage’ allergies. Research shows that there is no evidence that avoiding these foods will help to prevent an allergy. However, if you or any close relatives suffer from food allergies, it’s wise to pay extra attention to your baby’s reaction (if any) to them. Stick to the ‘one food at a time’ rule and you’ll know what (if anything) is causing an issue. Check with your Doctor if you or any close relatives have severe food allergies.
Is juice OK?
Yes but only in tiny amounts. It’s not as essential as some people think. You baby will be able to tolerate juice from around 9 months old. However, juice isn’t as valuable to your baby as the fruit itself. The fruit contains the same nutrients as the juice but also has added fiber. If you really want to give juice, don’t offer more than 4 ounces (118 ml) each day and give it to your baby in a feeder cup. The issues with juice are that too much may cause diarrhea and nappy rash. It may also fill your baby up so that there is no room left for the solid foods, which contain more nutritional value. Don’t ever give your baby a cup of juice last thing at night as the sugars and acids in it can promote tooth decay.
Before your baby reaches the age of one, cow’s milk, citrus juices and fruits and honey are best avoided for the following reasons:
Cow’s milk: This isn’t a good source iron and can lead to your baby developing an iron deficiency.
Citrus juices and fruit: These are quite acidic and can give your baby a nasty diaper rash.
Honey: Surprisingly, honey may contain spores that may cause botulism, which would be very serious in babies.
Potential choking hazards
The following are best avoided:
- Anything slippery i.e. whole grapes, or hot dogs or pieces of them.
- Dry or hard foods like popcorn, nuts or hard candy
- Tough or sticky foods, i.e. large pieces of meat or peanut butter
- Foods that may stick together to form a large mass i.e. raisins
Handy hints for happy feeding
- Your baby will make a mess. Place an oil cloth on the floor under the high chair to catch the fallout. Grab your camera and capture some very happy memories. Then clean up!
- As you’re feeding your baby with a spoon, give him / her a spoon to hold. This will encourage dexterity. Once you baby is used to holding it, guide the spoon into the food and into his / her mouth.
- At mealtimes, offer your baby some breast milk or formula in a feeder cup. It will help with weaning from a bottle and encourage the full-time use of a cup.
- When a baby only eats a few teaspoons at a time, it can be tempting to feed it straight from the jar. If you do this, saliva and bacteria on the spoon is re-introduced back into the container and can spoil what’s left inside. Place small amounts into a small dish.
- Avoid battles – if your baby really doesn’t want to eat something, don’t push it. But do be prepared to offer the same food over and over again. This is necessary to prevent your baby from becoming a fussy eater and to ensure they get the required variety in their diet.
- Recognize when your baby has had enough. He / she may lean backwards, turn away, push the spoon away or just refuse to open up! Don’t force it. As long as your baby is gaining weight in line with his / her age, then you’re safe.
Above all, relax and enjoy it. Babies know when you’re stressed and match that with their own behavior. The sticky hands and gooey face won’t last forever so make the most of it!
Filed under: Tips & Hints
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