According to recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Public Health Association (APHA), human milk is the only food that healthy, full-term babies need for about the first six months of life. The composition of human milk changes in response to a variety of cues, so that each mother provides milk that meets her own baby’s unique needs. Human milk provides immunity factors for as long as the baby nurses, and many of the health benefits of breastfeeding continue well into childhood and beyond.
Feeding complementary foods to your baby before he is ready is typically messy and inefficient as he will naturally push the food out with his tongue as long as the tongue-reflex is functioning. By waiting for him to be developmentally ready, he becomes an active participant in eating, rather than merely a passive recipient. This helps to put him in charge of how much he eats, teaching him important fullness cues. Starting solid foods before your baby is ready will not increase his sleep at night, is not necessary for larger babies, and does not initially increase calories.
Some Signs of readiness:
- Baby is about six months old
- Baby is able to sit, unsupported
- Baby has lost his tongue-thrust reflex, meaning that he does not push foods out of his mouth with his tongue when they are offered
- Baby can pick things up between his fingers and thumb.
How to start solids:
- Nurse your baby before offering other foods. Your milk remains the single most important food in your baby’s diet until his first birthday. Additionally, he is more likely to show interest in new foods if he is not ravenously hungry. At this age, other foods are more for experimentation, play and fun. Remember to offer to nurse again after the solid “meal”.
- Some babies like to sit in a high chair while others prefer to sit in somebody’s lap. Babies are messy, so you may want to put an old shower curtain under his chair for easier cleanup.
- Offer food when the baby is in the mood to learn. This could be during a quiet time, or it could be at a social time when the rest of the family is also eating.
- Offer small amounts of food. Your baby is learning to eat and enjoy new textures, rather than having a full meal. Gradually increase the amount of food and the frequency of feeding to satisfy your baby’s hunger and interest.
- If your baby does not seem to like a new food, offer it again at another time. It may take a few times before he learns to enjoy a new flavor.
- Many babies prefer finger foods to spoons. First foods are for fun and experimentation. Neatness doesn’t count! As with your milk, allow baby to control the amount he eats, and stop when he is done. Offering “finger foods” allows your baby to do this.
- Never leave a baby or young child alone with food in case they begin to choke. Never give your baby small, hard foods like peanuts or popcorn. Foods that are circular in shape such as carrots or grapes should be sliced and then halved or quartered.
- Use only single ingredients and wait about a week between introducing each new food. Then, if something upsets your baby, you will know exactly what it was. Some signs of a possible allergic reaction include a rash, runny nose, or sore bottom. If you see any of these signs, wait a week and try the food again. If you get the same reaction, hold off until your baby is a year old and try again.
- If there is a family history of food allergy, consult your doctor or allergist for advice on when to start your baby on foods that tend to be more allergenic as it may differ from recommendations for babies without allergic history. These foods include citrus fruits (including oranges, lemons, and grapefruit) kiwi, strawberries, peanuts and peanut butter, eggs, soy products (including soy milk and tofu), and cow’s milk (including cheeses, yogurt, and ice cream).
First foods for babies
Most babies love fruits. Make sure they are ripe, and wash well before peeling. Here are some favorites:
- Bananas cut into slices which have then been halved or quartered
- Unsweetened applesauce, or tiny apple chunks that have been softened by cooking
- Plums, peaches, pears, and apricots, gently cooked if necessary
- Avocado diced into small, bite size pieces
Fresh vegetables should be washed, peeled and cooked until tender. Frozen veggies are convenient to have on hand. Avoid the canned varieties to which salt has been added. Your baby may enjoy:
- Baked or boiled sweet potatoes, in tiny chunks
- Mashed white potatoes
- Baby carrots, green beans, peas and squash
Meat and Fish
Babies often prefer well-cooked chicken, which is soft and easy to eat when shredded. Be careful to remove even the tiny bones when serving fish.
Beans and Legumes
Remove the skins from beans as they tend to be harder to digest. If you use canned beans for convenience, make sure they are unseasoned.
Grains and Cereals
Commercial, iron-fortified cereals are often the first foods served to babies who are not breastfeeding because they need the extra iron, but breastfed babies are rarely anemic as the iron in human milk is well-utilized. If there is concern about the baby’s iron levels, a simple test can be done in the doctor’s office.
Whole grain cereals, breads and crackers are the most nutritious. Wait until later in the year before offering wheat products. If you use cereals, make sure that they only have one ingredient and use either water or your own milk for mixing. Many mothers prefer to let their older babies chew on a hard bagel or an end of bread instead of sugary teething biscuits.
- Making your own baby foods saves money and allows you to give your baby the freshest food available.
- Babies under a year should not be given honey or corn syrup as they carry the risk of botulism.
INTRODUCING WATER TO OLDER BABIES
- During the first 6 months of age, even in hot climates, human milk contains all the water babies need.
- Once a baby is 6 months old you can offer water in moderation. Try giving a small amount of water in an ordinary or spouted cup.
- If tap water is safe to drink in your country or region it’s fine to give it to your baby. Avoid bottled mineral water which can contain high levels of minerals, and drinks that contain sugar, sweeteners and caffeine.
- Because human milk contains a high percentage of water many older babies or toddlers get all the fluids they need through breastfeeding. Some babies and toddlers may need to drink water with solid food to avoid constipation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full#content-block
The Canadian Paediatrics Society: https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/feeding_your_baby_in_the_first_year
The Australian Raising Children Network: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/when_to_introduce_solids.html