Right around the time your baby turns from a helpless newborn into a lively little person everyone around you will start asking whether you’ve started feeding her solids.
As this is one of the most controversial topics around even between pediatricians, we’re not going to get into the 4- versus 6- month debate. Suffice to say that babies are expected to start taste testing solid food (besides breast milk or formula) at about the same time some or all of the following things happen:
• Baby has good head control
• Baby is able to sit supported or unsupported (another controversy)
• Baby shows interest in food
• Baby acts hungry even after consuming their regular amount of milk
• Baby loses tongue reflex (doesn’t push out food with her tongue)
But what do you feed her? Regardless of what your mother says, you should not start with orange juice. We know that you had tuna sandwiches for breakfast when you were two months old and you turned out fine, but seriously, just listen to your doctors. They have the diplomas; they know what they’re talking about.
A couple of ground rules
Again, even experts disagree about some of this stuff but there are some things that we would rather stay on the safe side about:
• Do not add salt or sugar to baby’s food.
• Do not give whole milk or honey before one year.
• Avoid allergenic foods like nuts and egg whites.
• Beware of choking hazards.
• Wait three to four days after introducing a new food to check for allergies.
• Never, ever leave a baby to eat or drink unattended!
First food myths
Before we begin, let’s clear up some things you may have heard from well-meaning friends and relatives:
1- It’s okay to give baby solid food before four months.
2- Introduce vegetables before fruit.
3- Fruit juice is good for baby.
4- Baby must be offered water from birth.
5- Baby’s food should be bland and boring.
6- Do not give any dairy products to baby before one year.
a- Baby needs all the nutrients she can get from breast milk or formula for at least 4 to 6 months.
b- Whichever you start with, baby is going to still be willing to eat the other.
c- Baby will benefit more from solid food rather than fill up her tummy with juice.
d- Baby gets all the hydration she needs from breast milk or formula. Offer water when she starts eating solid meals.
e- Baby enjoys trying new, different flavours. Many seasonings (excluding salt, sugar and spicy things) are safe for baby.
f- Only whole milk should be delayed. Cheese and yogurt can be introduced earlier since lactose is broken down in them so they’re easier to digest.
Introducing solid food
Contrary to what many people believe, first foods shouldn’t be limited to two or three bland foods that you keep making over and over until you suddenly start your baby on table food as soon as they turn one. A gradual transition from mushy potatoes to French fries is the way to go.
Start with one ingredient, soupy purees. Use water, formula or breast milk to thin whatever you’re making. When baby gets the hang of eating off a spoon, gradually thicken the consistency of the (still) pureed food. Many people like to start with rice cereal, but you could certainly use fruit or vegetables instead. Carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, apples, pears, peaches, plums and avocados are all good choices.
After a while you can go chunkier and mash the food instead of pureeing it. And here’s the fun part, you can start mixing and matching whatever your heart desires (well, almost). Your baby will enjoy various mixtures of fruits and vegetables. Plus now (or even before that) you will be advised to start adding meat such as beef and chicken to baby’s meals as a source of iron. Mix different kinds of fruits and vegetables (plus meat) to discover your baby’s favourites.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and you’ll be able to add a bit more texture by dicing, slicing and grating most foods into very small pieces. At this point your baby may or may not have a couple of teeth, but even if she doesn’t she’ll still be able to “gum” soft foods. Your life will get a lot easier at this stage, because now baby can eat a lot of your everyday food so you can just set aside her portion (sans salt an sugar) while you’re making your own dinner. Well cooked rice and small pasta shapes can be added to baby’s portion of meat and veggies.
Your baby will let you know when she’s ready to attempt feeding herself. One day you’ll find her grabbing that biscuit from your hand and stuffing it into her mouth. When that happens, make sure that whatever she gets her hands on is:
• Appropriate for her age
• Cut into very small pieces
• Easy to hold
Pieces of ripe bananas, very soft cooked carrots and small chunks of mushy fruit are great first finger foods.
By the time her fist birthday rolls around, baby will be ready to enjoy discovering the world of real food with you and the rest of the family.