The New Mom Guide
Baby Food 101
By Karen Spencer
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In this article:
- Welcome to Parenthood (Now What?)
- Six Sanity Saving ideas for Parents
- Baby Care 101
- Baby Care 101: Part Two
- Baby Sleep 101
- Baby Sleep 101: Part Two
- Baby Food 101
- Baby Food 101: Part 2
- Reality 101
- Reality 101: Part Two
- Baby Games 101
- Getting out with Baby
- Mom-to-Mom Baby Tips
- Mom-to-Mom Baby Tips: Part Two
When you first breastfed your tiny newborn, you probably couldn’t imagine a time when he’d be ready for solid foods. Now that he is, you may be a little daunted about how to begin. But relax: As long as you’re following the recommendations of the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to breastfeed exclusively for six months, your baby’s digestive system will be mature enough to handle a wide variety of healthy foods. That means there are few hard-and-fast rules about the order you can introduce solid foods to your baby’s diet. Here’s what you need to know about baby food, including which foods to delay because of potential allergic reactions or choking hazards.
Precautions and getting started
There are a couple of important precautions to keep in mind. Introduce one new food at a time, and wait a few days before you introduce the next, says the American Dietetic Association. This way if your baby has a reaction — such as a rash, diarrhea, vomiting or wheezing — you’ll be able to identify the culprit. If there are any allergies in your family (that could mean anything from hives when you eat strawberries, to hay fever, eczema or anaphylaxis) you might want to talk to her doctor about extra safety measures. If you have any questions about your baby’s readiness for certain foods, don’t hesitate to bring it up at her next checkup or talk to a dietitian. (There are a few foods best left for later. See Waiting List, below.)
So how do you begin? The conventional method used to be to start baby on iron-fortified infant cereal somewhere between four and six months. Many people still start with cereal because it’s easy to prepare and a good source of iron. But you don’t have to. Look to what’s local, seasonal and on your table. “If the rest of the family is enjoying peaches because they’re in season, put half a peach through a hand-held food grinder with some liquid to make a purée,” she says Ellen Desjardins, public health nutritionist with the Region of Waterloo Public Health in Ontario, Canada.
Whatever you’re serving, start with about a tablespoon. Give your baby that taste of something new when she’s happy, not just before bedtime or when she’s ravenous. Keep the experience positive. Don’t force her to eat a food she doesn’t like, but do introduce it again in a few days or weeks — sometimes it takes a few tries. You’ll know she’s had enough from cues like closing her mouth or turning her head away.
Managing baby's diet
Babies need dietary iron starting at about six months. (They’re born with stores of iron that run out around four months. If yours has been on non-iron-fortified formula, make the switch to iron-fortified formula at this time.) While your baby does get iron from breastmilk or some formulas, it’s a good idea to introduce an additional source of iron as an early food. Baby cereal is one good source, but there are others. When babies were given solids at a younger age, meat was one of the last items introduced because of concerns about giving a small baby a big load of protein, says Desjardins. But after six months, you can give your baby some well-cooked, puréed meat, even if you’ve just started solids. Or she might prefer ground-up cooked beans. Limit deli meats because they contain a lot of salt and additives.
If you like, you can prepare all your baby’s food from fresh ingredients, but commercial baby food is perfectly acceptable, too. Choose a single food rather than a combo at first. Don’t contaminate the jar by spooning food directly from the jar into baby’s mouth — put what you need in a dish so the uncontaminated jar can go back in the fridge. Food is good there only for three days after opening.
Your baby will begin with smooth puréed foods, but you’ll want to move out of that stage as she becomes ready for different textures. If you’re using a manual food grinder or tiny food processor, gradually reduce the amount of liquid for a chunkier consistency.
When you’re introducing a new texture, sit with your baby so you can see how he handles the unfamiliar food. Show him how you chew with exaggerated chewing motions. “If he gags terribly, wait a bit longer,” says Desjardins. “But remember that gagging is a natural reflex. It just means he’s not used to the lumpier texture.” Later, you can mash cooked vegetables with a fork. Around nine months you can move to finger foods — well-cooked little pieces that your baby can grip between his thumb and index finger. Some babies like thawed frozen peas or blueberries, still cold. Your baby probably won’t be much good with a spoon until he approaches a year and a half.
These are messy times, but when your baby squishes some banana through his fingers, he’s just discovering his food. Along with healthy meals, your child gets a lot of important messages at the table. He learns that a meal is a sociable time when he gets to enjoy the companionship of his family and he learns about good food choices.