Just when you feel like you’ve really mastered your baby’s feeding routine, it seems like it’s time to change it up! Starting somewhere between 4 to 6 months, your baby will be ready to start stage 1 baby foods and begin the weaning process from formula / breast milk. That being said, it’s important to keep in mind that formula and/or milk are still the most important nutrition for baby. This phase involves a lot of “first tastes” of foods that are pureed or mashed and watered down with either milk or water. We always start with simple, nutritious, single ingredient, wholesome foods that have no added salt or sugar; and don’t be surprised if there’s more food on your baby’s face, hands, and bib than in his/her tummy.
Stage 1 Defined
Once you get the green light from your pediatrician, it’s okay to start introducing solid foods to your infant. A stage one baby food refers to a baby food that is appropriate for infants who are being introduced to solid foods. The following are qualities of a stage 1 baby food:
- thin and runny consistency
- finely pureed and/or mashed textures
- lower on the allergy scale
- watered down with breast milk / formula
- easily digested
- no added salt or sugar
Stage 1 normally includes “baby” cereal and finely pureed or mashed fruits and vegetables. As you move up in stages, the food becomes thicker and starts to include a wider variety of options. Your baby will also start gradually relying more and more on solid foods for nutrients and slowly drink less breast milk / formula as the process continues.
Signs Your Baby is Ready
Prior to the age of 4 months, babies lack the ability to move food from the spoon to the back of their throat for swallowing. This tongue-thrust reflex is necessary for breastfeeding, but your baby will develop the oral coordination for chewing and swallowing usually before 6 months. If you feed your baby and they push the food back out of her mouth, this ability may not be developed enough yet. Know that this is normal; water down the food more, and if that doesn’t work, wait a couple more weeks before trying again. Here are some other signs that your baby may be ready to start tasting solid foods:
- Does he open his mouth when food comes his way? This eagerness to feed can be your baby telling you that he’s ready. Other social signs include showing interest in watching other people eat and acting hungry even after nursing.
- Can he hold his head up? Your baby should have the head control to hold up his head with just the support of a high chair, feeding seat, or infant seat.
- Can he move food from a spoon to his throat? As noted above, your baby must be able to successfully swallow the food (obviously..) in order for them to be ready for solids.
- Does your infant weigh 13 lbs or more? If they have doubled their birth weight or weigh more than 13 pounds, your infant is more likely to be ready to start the solid foods process.
Foods to Try
This list is more extensive than parents initially think it would be; but a baby’s first food does not have to be the traditional infant rice cereal. The foods listed above all make great first foods for babies. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), many pediatricians will recommend starting vegetables before fruits, but there is currently no evidence suggesting that introducing solids in any particular order has any advantages for your baby. There’s a lot of big brands that sell stage 1 baby foods, but making your own homemade baby food recipes is easy in this stage. For example, pick up a ripe banana from the grocery store and mash into a fine puree with milk or water.
When introducing new foods to your infant, only introduce 1 new food every 4 days. Once you have introduced a food, mix different combinations of the veggies, fruits, and cereals listed above to create more interesting meals. Introduction foods individually helps easily detect and food sensitivities or allergies right from the get-go. Signs like vomiting, rash, and diarrhea may be signs of an allergic reactions and you should contact your pediatrician.
If a direct relative has any severe food allergies, consult with a pediatrician. It’s usually recommended to wait to introduce any foods that are possibly reactive until after 1 years of age. That being said, the AAP believes that waiting to introduce those foods beyond 4-6 months doesn’t prevent a food allergy from forming.
Tips for Success
- Start out slowly. Prepare a tablespoon size portion of whichever food you have picked.
- Some parents find it beneficial to feed their baby using their (clean and washed) finger as a spoon. It’s possible that “new” food and “new” spoon could confuse your infant and perhaps using your finger can simplify the change.
- Foods like bananas are good to eat raw, but most others you need to cook then pureed or mashed. Some parents like to use a food processor or blender.
- If your baby cries or turns away when you try to feed her, do not force it. Go back to a formula/milk diet for a couple weeks before trying again. The process of starting solid foods is a gradual one, so be patient.
- For the first couple of feedings, start out with milk, followed by small half-spoonfuls of food, then finish with more milk. This smooths out the transition and will also prevent your infant from getting frustrated when she is overly hungry.
- Once your infant can sit up and use her hands to bring objects to her mouth, it’s okay to start finger foods to help her learn how to feed herself. It is essential during this stage to take precautions against choking: all food should be soft, easy to swallow, and cut into very small pieces / cubes. Examples include: scrambled eggs, finely chopped chicken, small pieces of bananas, etc.
- Do not be surprised if there’s more food on your baby’s face, bib, and hands than in her tummy. Learning how to swallow solids is difficult and your baby will get better with time. Increase the amount of food gradually, starting with just a spoonful or two to start out.
- Good habits start early. Try as much as possible to feed your baby at mealtime with the family. Research has shown that having dinner together as a family on a regular basis has positive effects on the development of children. Plus, practice resting between bites, eating from a spoon, and stopping when full. Promote a healthy, active childhood now so that these good habits can be continued for the rest of your child’s life.
Within a few months of starting solid foods, your infant’s diet should include a wide variety of foods such as breast milk and/or formula, vegetables, fruits, cereal, fish, and eggs. And when your baby is ready, continue on to stage 2 baby foods. However, feedings are individual and should be adjusted to your child’s needs and tastes. Your baby should still be getting most of her vitamins and nutrients from being breastfed and/or milk formula, so there is no pressure to start solid foods and be successful immediately. Make your own baby food for your little one using the foods listed above such as oatmeal, peas, and infant cereal. Babies are keen to learn and will catch on. Be patient and amazing things will happen!
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