Around six months, babies can start eating solid food as a complement to breast milk or formula. Why six months? Well, that isn’t a hard and fast rule, but there are certain developmental milestones a baby must reach before he or she can handle solids and those milestones are usually met by that age.
Around six months, babies typically stop using their tongues to push food out of their mouths and begin to develop the coordination to move solid food from the front of the mouth to the back for swallowing. In addition, a baby must be able to hold his or her head in a steady, upright position. (Can you say tummy time!?!!) Also, your baby must be able to sit with support. Some other signs that a baby may be ready to start solid foods are mouthing his or her hands and toys and a new-found interest in what you are eating.
While the risks of starting too early are rather intuitive, starting solids too late — after age 6 months — can be detrimental as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, starting a baby on solids too late can
- Slow a baby's growth
- Cause iron deficiency in breast-fed babies
- Delay oral motor function
- Cause an aversion to solid foods
So, what is the best way to start introducing solid food? First, it is important to continue breastfeeding your child or providing formula during this time. Experts suggests you provide up to 32 ounces a day while introducing solid foods. Other than that, the general wisdom is to start simple. Offer single ingredient foods that do not contain sugar or salt. Wait for three to five days before introducing a new food to make sure your baby does not have an adverse reaction to the food. If you have only introduced one food and he or she starts vomiting or has diarrhea or a rash, it is easier to know the cause. After you introduce two or more new foods in this way, you can start serving those particular foods in combination, but still isolate new foods so you can identify the cause of any reaction should one occur.
Want more information?
In the second half of baby’s first year, iron and zinc are important nutrients. Iron is critical for brain development. Research shows that insufficient iron in a baby’s diet can lead to thought-processing and motor deficiencies. At seven to twelve months old, babies need 11 milligrams of elemental iron per day. By one to three years old, they need seven milligrams.
Zinc supports cognition and development. It also has a primary role in maintaining immune function and assuring optimal cell growth and repair. Insufficient zinc in a baby’s diet is associated with impaired growth and increased susceptibility to infection. Formula meets a baby’s zinc needs, but breast milk does not. If you are breastfeeding, it is important to introduce zinc-rich foods, which are often also iron-rich foods. Children from seven months to three years need three milligrams of zinc per day.
Babies also need sufficient calcium, which is necessary for strong bones. For the first year of baby’s life, breast milk and/or formula provide the proper dosage. Once you switch your baby’s milk to cow’s milk, baby will need 500 milligrams daily.
Additionally, babies need sufficient amounts of vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. Vitamin A promotes good vision and healthy skin. B vitamins, including folic acid, promote cell growth, regulate the metabolism, enhance the immune and nervous systems, and maintain healthy skin and muscle tone. Vitamin C helps baby absorb iron and helps prevent scurvy. Vitamin D helps baby absorb calcium and helps with bone growth. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that facilitates cell growth and development of the nervous system. Vitamin K helps baby’s blood clot properly.
This all sounds intimidating, but meeting these dietary needs is pretty easy. With the exception of Vitamin D, which is found in few foods and should be supplemented with a liquid dosage, if you offer your baby breast milk or formula and build up to include a variety of foods from the food pyramid – fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, meats, fish, and healthy fats - your baby’s nutritional needs will likely be met.
What to introduce when?
Most people choose cereal as the first solid food to introduce. Two servings of iron-fortified baby cereal (one-half ounce each) provide the 11 milligrams of iron your baby needs. Mix one tablespoon of a single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal with four tablespoons (60 milliliters) of breast milk or formula. Help your baby sit upright and offer the cereal with a small spoon once or twice a day. Serve one or two teaspoons after a breast milk or formula feeding. Once your baby gets the hang of swallowing runny cereal, you can gradually thicken it by mixing it with less liquid. You can also gradually increase the amount you offer. The Mayo Clinic suggests you offer a variety of single-grain cereals such as rice, oatmeal or barley, but cautions against offering only rice cereal due to possible exposure to arsenic.
After cereal, think about introducing pureed vegetables, followed by pureed fruit and meat. By eight to ten months, most babies can handle small portions of finely chopped finger food, such as soft fruits, vegetables, pasta, well-cooked meat, baby crackers, and dry cereal.
Again, the general wisdom is no salt, no sugar, and no spices. Every kiddo is different, though. After the first month or so of introducing solid foods, our little guy would not eat any of my homemade purees and foods until I started adding garlic, a little salt, and more sophisticated flavor combinations. Then he went wild for solid foods.
Lastly, there are lots of baby cookbooks out there, but my favorite was Superfoods for Babies and Children by Annabel Karmel. The cookbook broke down foods by age, from 6 months to three years plus, providing ideas not just for pureed foods, but for foods that sparked my kiddo’s imagination and made him WANT to eat what I prepared. SUCCESS!!! For a list of other recommended cookbooks, click here.Wishing you the best of luck with this newest transition! Bon Appetit!