How to Tell when it’s Time for Solid Food
Introducing solid food before the age of 4 months has been linked to a six-fold increase of risk of obesity at age 3, in formula-fed babies. This increase also applies to babies who were weaned prior to 4 months of age. There was no increase in risk of obesity with breast-fed babies.
But, when should a baby be introduced to solid food, what foods should I start with, and what foods should I avoid?
Is my Baby Ready for Solid Food?
There is no set date or age when a baby is ready for solid food, but there are some developmental milestones that need to be reached:
- Head control – Your baby needs to be able to hold her head up, without wobbling and bobbling.
- Loss of Extrusion Reflex – This means your baby isn’t pushing the food out of her mouth with her tongue. Your baby should be able to keep the food in her mouth and then swallow. This can usually be tested with a small bit of cereal. If she pushes the food out of her mouth, she’s not ready.
- Sitting upright – She may not be ready for a highchair yet, but she’s steady when sitting up with support.
- Chewing motions – Perhaps in response to watching you and other family members, your baby may start demonstrating chewing habits.
- Weight gain – “Most babies are ready to eat solids when they’ve doubled their birth weight (or weigh about 15 pounds) and are at least 4 months old.” (BabyCenter.com)
- Increasing appetite – If your baby receives eight to ten feedings of breast milk or formula a day and still seems hungry, then she’s likely ready for solid food.
- Watches others eat – Usually around 4 months, babies will start to notice what you’re eating and may reach for your bowl, spoon or fork.
What solid foods should I feed my baby?
With the variety of opinions and advice out there, this part of baby’s development can be confusing.
Usually, baby cereal (rice, oatmeal or barley) is the first step, though in reality it doesn’t really matter if you start with cereal or try a different baby food first, such as applesauce. You might have heard that introducing veggies before fruit can help your baby actually like veggies, but there is no actual evidence for this. Babies are born with a sweet tooth, anyway. Starting with veggies first doesn’t change that.
The advantage to baby cereal is that you can add formula or breast milk to them. You will want to make sure that the cereal is fortified with iron.
“If your baby has been mostly breastfeeding, he may benefit from baby food made with meat, which contains more easily absorbed sources of iron and zinc that are needed by 4 to 6 months of age.” (American Academy of Pediatrics)
When can I introduce other foods?
Generally, once solid foods have been introduced, you can try a new food every 2 to 3 days. This interval is important to be able to pinpoint allergic reactions (eg: diarrhea, rash, vomiting). When choosing foods to introduce, remember that meats and vegetables contain more nutrients per serving than fruit or cereal. Many pediatricians recommend waiting to introduce eggs, fish, and even peanuts until after one year of age, though there is no evidence to-date that showing that introducing these foods prior to one year of age actually increases the chance your child will be allergic to them. These foods are actually full of nutrients that are beneficial to your baby.
If you plan to make your own baby food, avoid spinach, beets, green beans, squash, and carrots, because they can contain large amounts of nitrates which can cause low red blood cell count in babies. Conventional baby food manufacturers actually test for nitrates. Sweet potatoes, corn and peas are ideal for preparing homemade baby food.
Once your baby starts putting objects in her mouth, she is ready for finger food. Anything you give her must be soft, easy to swallow, and cut into small pieces (eg: scrambled eggs, pasta, bananas). By this age your baby should be eating about 4 ounces (one small jar of baby food) at each meal. Keep in mind that freshly made baby foods will spoil more quickly than baby food in a can or jar.
Obviously, your baby’s diapers will start to demonstrate the introduction of solid food. Stool will become more solid and change color depending on what your child has eaten. It will also smell more. It is common to see hulls of peas or corn and other bits of undigested pieces of food. Be aware of loose, watery, or mucosy stools, which may indicate that the digestive tract is irritated. If this persists even after you’ve reduced the amount of solid food your baby is eating, consult your family doctor.
“It is important for your baby to get used to the process of eating—sitting up, taking food from a spoon, resting between bites, and stopping when full. These early experiences will help your child learn good eating habits throughout life.” (American Academy of Pediatrics)
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for Empowher.com.
Timing of Solid Food Introduction and Risk of Obesity in Preschool-Aged Children. Huh, Susanna Y. et. al. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. July 21, 2012.
Introducing solid food. BabyCenter.com. Web. July 20, 2012.
Ages & Stages: Switching to Solid Foods. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. July 21, 2012.
Solid Advice on Introducing Your Baby to Solid Foods. Scholten, Amy.
Timing is Everything: Type 1 Diabetes and Infant Diet. Peterson, Elizabeth.
Eating solid foods early doesn’t affect baby growth.