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Starting Solid Foods

by Jeri Carr

Many parents have ambivalent feelings about starting solid foods. Sure it can be interesting to start something new, but nursing a baby whenever he is hungry makes things so simple. It provides complete nutrition in a liquid, and there is no need to worry that baby is eating something that might make him sick or that he might choke on. Adding solid foods complicates things--and makes things so messy. Plus, it can be hard to know when to first offer your baby solid foods, and what if he doesn’t want it?

There is not an exact age at which you must introduce solid foods, but your baby will not be ready until he is at least four months of age, and will more likely be ready closer to six months, or older. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that appropriate solid foods be added to an infant’s diet at 4 to 6 months of age, and the AAP “strongly encourages breastfeeding for virtually all infants as the exclusive feeding for the first 6 months of life” (Where We Stand). La Leche League, an authority on breastfeeding, suggests that babies begin solid foods around the middle of the first year.

Since each child will be ready for solids at a different age, it’s better to watch for signs of possible readiness rather than start them just because they are a certain age. Signs of possible readiness for solid foods are the ability to sit unsupported, the ability to pick up food and put it in his mouth, loss of the tongue thrust reflex (the food doesn’t come right back out of his mouth after you put it in), a genuine interest in watching you eat, attempts to feed himself, and, in breastfed infants, increased frequency of nursing that doesn’t subside after four or five days (a baby nurses more frequently when trying to build his mama’s milk supply; usually her milk supply will increase to meet his needs by four or five days).

If your child shows all or some of these signs, they do not mean that your child must start solids now. His reaching for your food may be the attempt of a teething child to find something hard to chew on, or maybe he is practicing his hand-eye coordination. He may be nursing more frequently because he is teething, is on the verge of getting sick, or maybe is going through a stressful time and is nursing frequently for comfort.

Though by outward signs your baby may seem ready to start, when your baby begins eating other foods give him only a small amount at first, a teaspoon or so, and watch for signs that may show his digestive system needs to develop more before he eats solids. These signs include a hurting tummy, constipation, and food coming out in his diaper undigested and looking like it did when it went in. If this happens, try offering solid foods again in a few weeks. Also, be sure to look for allergies by introducing no more than one new food every three to five days.

It can be much easier to start solids when a child is older. The risk of allergic reactions is less, plus you can skip the pureed food stage. An older child can be offered finger food such as cheerios, plain rice cakes, or bite-size (pea-size) pieces of soft fruit such as very ripe banana or pear (try cooking the pear), bite-size pieces of avocado, and steamed carrots or sweet potatoes cut in small pieces (or try grating them before steaming them).

Your child may enjoy food from the first bite, or he may show you that he wants nothing to do with it by clamping his mouth shut or turning his head away from the food. Respect his signals. Babies don’t need to be forced or coerced into eating–in fact, that can cause eating problems; they will eat what they need if given the opportunity. At first, eating solids is just for fun anyway, and breastmilk or formula should make up the bulk of a baby’s diet for the first year.

One of the most important things about eating is the socialization it provides, so let your child sit at the table with you while you eat and enjoy your family's interactions. Give him a toy, a spoon, or a cup to play with. If he is around seven months put a few pieces of a food on a his plate or high chair table, and let him experiment and have fun. Many babies prefer to feed themselves.

Some babies remain uninterested in solids until they are 9-12 months old, and that’s perfectly normal. You can trust your baby. Sometimes a baby will naturally avoid certain foods if he is allergic to them. If your family has a history of allergies, some doctors recommend delaying introduction of solid foods as long as possible, but the rule of thumb that works well for most babies is “follow your baby’s cues.”

This article was first published on Suite101.com.


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