Introducing solid foods to your baby can be an exciting (and messy) experience. Parents and even grandparents and friends may enjoy watching the little one marvel over new foods. However, starting a baby on solid foods before they are ready may create health problems.
Mary Ellen Pizza, MD, of ProMedica Physicians, suggests following the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and waiting until babies are between 4-6 months of age to introduce solid foods.
“Usually at that age they can sit with good trunk support and good head control,” Dr. Pizza says. “They also have the ability to transfer food from the front of their mouth to the back of their mouth and swallow without much difficulty.”
Problems arise when babies are given solid foods before their bodies are ready. If a baby ingests solid food before the recommended age, the baby may be too young to transfer food from the front to the back of the mouth. Also, it may still be difficult for the baby to swallow anything but liquids. This could lead to choking or aspiration, which occurs when solids or liquids “go down the wrong pipe,” or enter the respiratory system.
“As long as parents wait until the child is 4-6-months, they should not have any of these problems.” Dr. Pizza says.
Although solid foods may be introduced as early as 4 months, the World Health Organization and AAP does recommend exclusive breastfeeding (breast milk only) until 6 months of age because of its many health benefits for moms and babies.
A baby will start to show signs when they are ready to try solid foods. If your baby shows interest in what you are eating or tries to grab food from your plate, it is a good indication that they may be ready to explore the seemingly endless selection of solid foods.
Dr. Pizza recommends that parents start the introduction by serving pureed foods, or foods that have been pressed or blended to the consistency of a soft, creamy paste or liquid.
“There is no particular rule as to what to serve first, whether it is cereal, fruits or vegetables,” Dr. Pizza says. “However, it is recommended as parents start to introduce new foods, only one new solid food is eaten by the baby for a few days.” This can also help identify any potential food allergies.
While exploring this new world with your child, it is important to continue providing breast milk or formula to ensure that your baby is still receiving all essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Solid foods only constitute a small portion of the substances needed for a child to receive all the necessary nutritional elements.
The best and easiest way to facilitate the introduction is to sit your child in an infant seat or a high-chair and use a spoon to present the food. If your child is interested in trying the unfamiliar substance, an inviting attitude will be indicated by grabbing hands and a wide, open mouth.
When first introducing solid foods, Dr. Pizza recommends starting with one or two tablespoons once a day. Gradually, the amount of food will increase depending on the interest and readiness of your child and your schedule.
The experience can be fun for you and your baby. “Mix it up a bit,” suggests Dr. Pizza. “Don’t introduce all fruits first or all vegetables first. Give your child a variety of textures and taste.”
Parents: Which solid foods did you first introduce to your child?