|Natalie two years ago at the end of one of her first solid food feedings.|
When to start:
While I'm not doctor, I belong to the camp of thought that says nothing other than breast milk or formula should be given before 4 months. With my daughter, we started solids at 4.5 months. With my son, we are waiting until 6 months. The current recommendation is to wait until 6 months, especially if you are breast feeding or have a history of serious food allergies.
The best time to start is when your child appears ready. Look for the following:
- unsupported sitting
- interest in watching the family eat
- ability to pick up a toy and put it in the mouth
- loss of the reflex where the tongue thrusts objects back out of the mouth
What to give:
The most common first food in America is commercial infant rice cereal, such as the one made by Gerber. But, that is not your only option. I found rice cereal a hassle with my daughter and looked into other options for my son.
There is a line of thinking that believes rice cereal is unnecessary because it is just sugars with no real nutrients (a quick Google search on this topic will find you articles with more specifics). There isn't even much in terms of taste or texture for your child to experience. When I made the rice cereal as directed on the box for a first feeding, it was so runny my daughter couldn't keep it in her mouth; it just ran right out making us both frustrated. To improve your rice cereal, you can make your own as suggested in Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron. Or you can forgo the Gerber and instead by a product like Earth's Best, which is organic brown rice cereal.
Some say to just skip the cereal and go straight for the veggie purees, such as carrots and sweet potatoes. Others say that starting on jars of applesauce and mashed bananas is fine, though many say that the sweetness of starting with fruit may cause problems rejecting stronger flavors later. Still others start with meats or even egg yolk. There is also a whole approach to solids called baby led weaning where no purees or jars are used and the child eats table foods or finger foods right from the beginning. This line of thinking suggests foods like steamed veggies, bananas, and avocado.
You also have the option of making your own baby food instead of buying all those little jars. With my daughter, I didn't have the knowledge, or kitchen equipment, to do this. I just didn't feel confident enough to undertake it. But with my son, we are going to give homemade baby food a try. Super Baby Food can give you some basics on how to make and store simple baby food purees. Basically, you need a steamer, a food processor, and ice cube trays. Steam the fresh food, puree it in the food processor, and then freeze the extra in ice cube trays for easy portioning.
Where to go next:
There is no reason to rush solids. Until about 9 months, your baby's nutritional needs are well covered by breast milk or formula. You have plenty of time to ease into solids at your child's own pace. Remember to spend several days on each new food to not only screen for allergies, but also to give your child time to really try the flavor and texture. When you move up to stage two jar foods, remember that they will be more lumpy, so gagging might occur. The same could happen again with stage three jars.
Finger foods can be started between 6 and 9 months. The baby led weaning camp feels babies are ready at 6 months to exclusively eat finger foods while other sources such as What to Expect the First Year recommends finger food at 9 months. Watch for the pincher grasp as an indicator that your child is ready for these foods. Common first finger foods are Cheerios, Gerber puffs, soft cooked veggies, and bananas (though you might want to roll them in crushed Cheerios to make them less slippery).
Starting a cup:
Most experts say you can introduce a cup around 6 months, which is around when most people start solids. Some say to skip over sippy cups and go right to the regular cup. If you do, just put a little liquid in at a time and be ready for the spills. My husband and I want our children to be able to drink on the go (and, I'll be honest, didn't want to deal with all the spilling at first). We went with sippy cups. We use the soft nubbed ones by Munchkin. We started with a smaller two handle cup, then moved up to the no handle cup. (Later my daughter learned how to work the straw cup, though it took some work to learn not to tilt it back). In the very beginning, we just offered the cup with water in it for her to experiment. It was at least a month before she got anything out of the cup at all. After a few months, we started mixing the cup half and half with white grape juice (it is easier on stomachs than apple juice) and water and we went on like that for a very long time. If for no other reason, I recommend starting learning how to use a cup early so that your child will drink milk from one when you are ready to introduce it sometime after the first birthday. Even with six months of experience with cups, it was still months before my daughter drained a cup of milk.
A few tips:
- Remember to stay up beat and keep it fun. When feeding my daughter the first few times, it was frustrating because the rice cereal just poured back out of her mouth. When I just relaxed and had more fun with it, it was more enjoyable for both of us.
- Be ready for things to get messy. Just accept that now and get used to the idea. (Your child will eventually get jam in his hair and spaghetti sauce on the wall). To cut down on mess, you can put a vinyl table cloth under baby's chair for easy clean up. Also, you can strip your child down to just the diaper to avoid ruining clothes.
- If your child really refuses solids, try again in a week or two. You are working on your child's time table.
- Have the right equipment. You'll need a nice big bib with a plastic backing, not those little cloth ones for drool. Start with spoons that have soft tips in case baby bites down hard on the spoon. Use plastic bowls in case it is knocked out of your hand. The ones with the suction cups on the bottom aren't worth the money; the suction cups aren't strong enough. A good high chair is a must, too. Your child can use it before you even start solids by sitting at the table with the rest of the family at meal time. When its time to start solids, the tray allows for finger foods and the height makes it convenient for you to spoon feed.
- You don't have to heat your child's baby food. I never did for any of my daughter's cereals or jarred food.
- Most common foods recommended to avoid to prevent chocking: whole grapes, nuts, popcorn, hard candy, and hot dogs. Cut hot dogs into quarters, then slice.
A note about food allergies:
Even if you or your spouse have several food allergies, your doctor will not allergy test your child before starting solids. I asked for my daughter. (I guess if you really wanted to push it, you could get it done, but your insurance probably wouldn't cover it without your pediatrician's referral). Instead, when you start introducing solids, you have to be careful to introduce items that only contain one new ingredient at a time, and wait several days before starting a new food. For example, my daughter ate eat new jar flavor of food for five to seven days before we moved on to the next one. You also need to read labels carefully. Items such as Cheerios and Gerber infant oatmeal contain wheat, which is popular allergen.