Introducing Foods to Your Infant
I distinctly remember our first family Thanksgiving after our daughter was born. Danielle was almost six months old and her diet consisted of breast milk, occasional formula, infant rice cereal, and fork mashed banana. Seated in her special clip-onto-the-table-seat at the large oak dining room table, she looked happy and excited to watch all the joyfully animated faces of her aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. As I fed her spoonfuls of Gerber Rice Cereal followed by some banana, I felt sad for her. “Too bad she can’t yet know the joys of turkey with dressing, fresh cranberry apple relish, and sweet potato pecan soufflé,” I remember thinking. I wanted to feed her tastes of all the traditional glorious foods right then and there. I was sure she was being deprived and that seating her at my parents’ Thanksgiving table was a cruel idea. WAIT A MINUTE! WAS I CRAZY!? Perhaps I was…a little. I like to call it being an ‘over thinker.’ Looking back, I can see that I was experiencing what many first time parents typically go through as they begin the journey of introducing solid foods to their baby. The key phrase to remember is: All in good time. So just when is the best time to introduce new foods to your baby? How will you know?
When to Begin
The recommended timetable for introducing solid foods to your baby considers two important factors: Developmental Readiness (your baby’s readiness, not yours) and Nutritional Needs.
Up until your healthy baby is 4 to 6 months old, all of her nutrient needs are met by breast milk or the next best thing, infant formula. Her mouth and tongue thrust are perfectly designed to expertly remove milk from the breast. Her digestive system cannot yet handle other foods without possibly causing digestive harm or contributing to food allergies. Then somewhere between 4 and 6 months of age, things begin to change:
- Her digestive tract can now handle larger sized molecules;
- Breast milk or formula feedings can no longer completely supply her calorie and iron needs;
- She can hold up her head on her own;
- She has new tongue and swallowing dexterity required to successfully take in semi-solid food from a spoon!
Some babies meet the above parameters right at 4 months—others not until 6 months of age. This is not an exact science. You will need to pay close attention to the signals your baby is giving you. In fact, you will need to pay close attention to your child’s signals for the rest of your lives, so get used to it!
Sorry. I digress. Let’s get back to introducing solid food to your baby…
The First Food
Baby’s first food needs to be easy to eat and digest, provide the needed addition of caloric energy, and be of low allergenicity—that is, we want a food that will not be likely to cause an allergic response. Why not pureed meat? No. Although meats are a terrific source of heme iron, the protein molecules in meats may be too large and not easily digested. Meat protein may also contribute to allergy at this point in time. Hmmm. This process reminds me of Harry Potter and the sorting hat. What we are looking for is a Gryffindor food for your baby…Yes. Infant Rice Cereal.
The First Feeding
A lot has been written about how to prepare and feed rice cereal to an infant. You begin the big day by sitting your baby comfortably in his high chair. You have prepared a very thin cereal mixture by stirring a small amount of translucent iron-fortified flakes of single grain infant rice cereal with some expressed breast milk or formula. Using a baby spoon, you offer a small amount of the mixture to baby, letting him see the cereal on the spoon and waiting for him to open his mouth to try a taste. Be patient with him. Don’t try to sneak the spoon into his mouth or surprise him. Babies don’t like these types of surprises. Let him control the rate of feeding and you will both feel happy and successful. Eventually, as he gets to be a more adept eater, you can make the cereal mixture thicker using more cereal and less milk. If you are paying attention, he will let you know when the meal is over. My most trusted source on feeding children (sorry Mom) and everything related to the realities of putting pediatric nutrition knowledge into practice is Ellyn Satter. You will find links to her fabulous books among my reading recommendations.
The timetable for introducing foods to your infant continues to address your baby’s level of developmental readiness and his growing nutritional needs. Usually, you will follow this course:
- Birth through first year of life: Breast milk or infant formula
- 4 to 6 months: Single-grain infant rice cereal
- 5-7 months: Strained or pureed fruits and vegetables
- 7-8 months: Soft cooked, mashed, finely ground proteins
- 8-9 months: Soft foods for manipulation and self-feeding
- 10-12 months: Family table foods
Probably the best advice is to relax and enjoy this time with your baby. Get plenty of rest too, because you have to prepare yourself for toddlerhood!