Parents may be introducing solid foods to their children too soon – and this can increase their risks for adverse health effects, such as obesity, ear infections, eczema, and illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A 2013 study from the CDC found that 40 percent of parents were introducing solid foods before their infants were four months old.
Introducing solid foods is one of many milestones in a baby’s growth and development. There is a lot of cues a baby may provide that indicate they’re ready to delve into “real” solid foods – as well as some cues that parents may need to wait longer before offering a spoonful of oatmeal, rice cereal, or fruits.
Of course, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends moms breastfeed their infants exclusively for the first six months of life. Following this, parents can start to introduce solid foods while ideally breastfeeding for the first 12 months of life. From even a decade ago, there is a lot of advice that pediatricians may have adjusted based on new research regarding the introduction of solid foods for baby.
Examples of these changes in recommendations include milestones that indicate a baby may be ready to eat as well as the types of foods parents can introduce. The introduction of solid foods represents a child’s entry into the wonderful world of food and to greater growth. Introducing healthy foods can help parents set the groundwork for healthy children for a lifetime.
15 Head Control Is A Must
One of the key factors in considering if baby is ready to eat solid foods is having good head control. This means a baby should be able to sit up and hold his/her own head up without assistance. Otherwise, they simply aren’t developed enough to start solid foods just yet. Eating the food without good head control could cause the baby’s head to flop forward, which could cause the baby to choke and potentially aspirate the food.
This could cause serious health and respiratory problems for a little one.
To evaluate baby’s head control, a parent can try placing baby in a high chair, feeding seat, or infant seat. If the baby is strong enough to hold their head up while seated, they may be one step closer to being ready to eat solid foods. If they aren’t, regular “tummy time” can help baby strengthen his neck and back muscles for future episodes of sitting up.
14 Double The Birth Weight Means Solids Are A Go
As a general rule, pediatricians say that a child may be ready to eat solid foods when the child has doubled his or her birth weight. This is one of the reasons why the fourth month is usually the starting or earliest point where a baby may eat solid foods: At the four-month mark, some babies have doubled their birthweights.
Another rule of thumb is if a baby weighs at least 13 pounds or 5.9 kilograms, they may be ready to eat solid foods. Babies that are larger than this may not experience adequate growth or support their hunger on a liquid diet alone.
13 Babies Should Be Able To Place Things In Their Mouths
As baby develops, they’ll put so many things in their mouth that it can be frustrating. However, there is a benefit to this when deciding if a baby is ready for solid foods. One of the developmental milestones that can signal a baby could eat solid foods well is if he or she places the hands and/or toys in the mouth.
It’s important that a baby can move solid foods from the front of their mouth to the back and then swallow the food. While these actions are something an adult does with little thought, this can take time for a baby to develop. While babies have natural reflexes toward sucking and drinking milk, but the capacity to move foods toward the back of the throat may take more time.
12 The Baby "Eyeing" Food Means They're Ready
Not only should a baby be physically ready to eat, they also have a want to eat. When babies are ready to start eating solid foods, they often show physical cues of interest in solid foods. Examples could include reaching for food or seeming fascinated by watching a parent eat.
Some babies use body language to show they are curious about the solid foods and appear eager to eat. These are all positive signs to a pediatrician that a baby will do well when eating solid foods for the first few times. From there, they should maintain interest in eating.
If baby doesn’t seem interested just yet, give it time. He or she will likely pick up in interest soon and reach for the mysterious “food” his or her parents seem to be enjoying so much.
11 Baby May Turn Food Away At First
Pediatricians get a lot of calls from parents who are giving their child solid foods for the first time who say the child just isn’t interested or may even start to reject the food. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a baby may have to be offered a food 10 to 15 times before eating it.
A reasonable expectation for the first few feedings could be that baby may eat only a teaspoonful or two. Over time, as baby knows more about what to expect from solid food, they will likely eat more.
If baby cries or turns away from solid food at the first feedings, parents should not continue to force the child to eat. Returning to some bottle feedings and breastfeeding before trying to give solid foods may be the best strategy to helping a child ease into a solid food diet. However, it’s always possible that baby will take very easily to solid foods – every child truly is different.
10 Baby More Likely To Eat Foods Parents Eat
“Baby see, baby do” is a good rule of thumb for parents hoping a child will eat a wide variety of flavorful and healthy foods. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are more likely to eat foods they see their parents eating as well as their brothers, sisters, or other children they may be around.
Therefore, before a parent introduces solid foods, they may wish to eat similar foods so the baby can see them eating. Examples could include applesauce, sweet potatoes, or oatmeal. This can pique the baby’s interest and make them more likely to accept a new food when the time to introduce solids arrives.
Another way to promote this fact is to eat a spoonful of the same food before serving it to a baby. Emphasizing how good the food is can help encourage baby to eat the food.
9 Solid Foods May Not Calm A Fussy Baby
A common misconception surrounding introducing solid foods is that doing so will help to calm a fussy baby. While adults may associate food with pleasure and happiness, babies don’t yet have the same associations. Sometimes parents think they are making a baby “happy” by offering solid foods because solid foods make them happy.
However, this isn’t always the case.
The best time to introduce solid foods is when a baby is physically ready to successfully add new foods to their diet. The time isn’t when a parent hopes that solid foods will be the difference-maker to ease a fussy baby with colic or acid reflux. Unfortunately, these are common conditions that affect little ones of this age. Introducing solid foods is rarely the cure-all for irritability.
8 Delaying Solid Foods Can Reduce Risk For Allergies
Another of the many reasons pediatricians advocate waiting until baby is four to six months old before eating solid food is that introducing solid foods too early is associated with greater risk for allergies and allergic skin conditions. According to UpToDate, delaying introduction of solid foods can reduce a baby’s risk for atopic dermatitis, which is also known as eczema.
Babies who eat solid foods too early in their lives may also be at a higher risk for developing food allergies. The baby’s immune system is in its infancy as well and may not yet recognize healthy food as a benefit to a baby’s body. As a result, the body may release inflammatory substances that cause an allergic reaction.
7 Waiting Longer Than Six Months Can Be Harmful Too
While pediatricians want parents to wait until four to six months to start feedings, waiting after six months to start feeding a baby can be harmful too. According to UpToDate, withholding solid foods after six months of age could lead to decreased growth. A baby may not be able to take in enough calories via breast milk or formula to support growth.
Also, waiting to introduce solid foods after six months may also result in baby turning down solid foods. While some aspect of resisting the introduction of solid foods can be expected, a parent may have even more difficulty after the six-month mark.
Also, delaying foods after the six-month mark doesn’t reduce the risks associated with developing food allergies either. So there are many reasons why the six-month milestone is the latest time parents will usually wait before introducing solid foods.
6 Certain Foods Should Be Avoided
Introducing solid foods is not a license to incorporate all foods into a baby’s diet. Some foods present too great a choking hazard to baby and shouldn’t be introduced until a child is 12 months old or older. Examples include nuts, raw carrots, hard candies, or grapes.
Honey is also unsafe to introduce to a baby because of the risk for clostridium botulinum, which is a form of botulism. Most pediatricians recommend waiting until a baby is older than age 2 before giving the child honey.
Another food that isn’t recommended when introducing solid foods is cow’s milk. This is because cow’s milk doesn’t have enough iron to support baby’s growth. Formula and breast milk are better options to support a growing baby. However, babies can eat foods like yogurt and cheese (providing they aren’t allergic to them) after age six months.
5 Refrain From Putting Solid Foods Into A Bottle
Sometimes babies seem thoroughly confused at the prospect of eating from a spoon, even when they watch their parents doing it. One of the ways a parent may try to remedy this (but shouldn’t) is to add solid foods to a bottle or infant feeder with nipple. However, this can be dangerous for baby because baby is not prepared for the thicker feeding. Choking can result.
Also, baby may eat more than they really should, which can result in weight gain.
Instead, offer food only from a spoon when baby is learning how to eat. This can give the baby a better understanding of what type of food is coming. If they do not take the food, the parent can offer some milk and try again by offering more food. Sometimes, it may take several feeding opportunities to get baby to start embracing eating solid foods.
4 Expect Changes To Baby’s Stool
Babies can have very interesting colors, sizes, and shapes of stool just eating breastmilk regularly. When different colors and textures of solid foods are introduced, this can cause some changes to the baby’s stool that some parents are unprepared for. For example, some foods, such as beets, can make a baby’s stool and even urine appear red.
This can be very alarming for parents.
Loose, watery, or mucus-y stools can indicate that a baby’s digestive system may be especially irritated by the foods he or she is eating. This may be an indicator to scale back on the amount of solid foods offered until a baby’s digestive system has more time to compensate. However, parents can expect that a baby’s stool will smell stronger and be more solid after introducing solid foods. Extra sugars and fats in the diet will make a baby’s stool smell more.
3 Introducing Allergenic Foods Can Vary
Almost a decade ago, pediatricians were usually advising parents to avoid introducing foods that were most associated with allergies until a child was one year of age. Examples include eggs, potatoes, wheat, and fish. However, more information, clinical studies, and cultural studies have revealed that this line of thinking may not be altogether accurate.
For example, in Israel, parents often introduce a “puff”-type snack that is made with peanut butter as one of a baby’s first foods. The rate of peanut allergies in Israel is 10 times less than it is in the United States, according to Boston Children’s Hospital.
Today, pediatricians are recommending parents introduce foods thought to be allergenic sometime between six and 12 months of age. The idea behind doing so is that baby’s immune system is developed enough to develop proteins that keep the body from rejecting a food as allergenic.
2 First Foods Can Vary
Pediatricians used to advocate baby’s first food as rice cereal. However, today, there are many more options for parents to introduce when they give a baby food for the first time. Examples include pureed brown rice mixed with breastmilk, mashed avocado, bananas, cooked carrots, cooked pears, or freshly mashed applesauce.
These foods are significantly less-processed than rice cereal, which is predominately broken down into sugar. Boston Children’s Hospital advocates for choosing fresh foods that a family can enjoy together that are made softer for baby to eat by pureeing, cooking, or mashing the food.
When giving baby their first feeding, they should be sitting up, alert, and awake. Loud music or television should be turned down to keep from distracting a baby. Parents should also anticipate a fairly significant “mess” as baby flings food and/or spits the food out.
1 Creating A Mealtime Routine Can Take Time
Babies won’t just start eating three meals a day and two snacks right away. It can take time for a parent to develop a routine of meals and snacks, usually up to one year of age. In the first four to six months when a parent is introducing foods, the baby can eat about two meals a day. “Meals” at this point can be two to four tablespoons of food.
By the time a baby reaches between seven to 12 months of age, the baby should be eating enough of a “meal” where they are eating the equivalent of their fist. At this age, babies will usually eat about three meals a day as they progress toward a more regular eating schedule.
Babies can then eat chopped, ground, or mashed foods as they continue their development and start to have teeth that assist them in biting and chewing foods.
Sources: CDC.gov, UpToDate, AAP.org, Boston Children’s Hospital