As a dietitian I love the science of food. I love learning about how food affects our bodies and I love studying how our bodies NEED food to stay alive and healthy. Vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates and fats… I find it all fascinating. However, I didn’t just become a dietitian because I love science, I became a dietitian because I LOVE food. I mean, who doesn’t right? But I REALLY LOVE food. I love trying new foods, flavors, textures, and preparations. I love to eat it and I love to cook it, and I think I would be more star-struck meeting Giada de Laurentiis than I would Reese Witherspoon. As a big-time foodie, I was so excited to introduce my little G to foods, but it’s definitely not as easy as putting a meal in front of him and saying, “eat up”(although that is what we’re aiming for eventually). Let’s talk about some common concerns so that you can be excited about introducing foods too!
Why do I need to add solid foods to my baby’s diet?
Initially your infant isn’t going to get a ton of nutrients from eating solid foods. The amounts will be small and the mess will be big. Yes, your baby will get a little extra iron, but mostly they’ll get a new, awesome, sweet potato hairdo. And that’s great. The goal of adding solid foods is to introduce your child to new flavors and textures, add some nutrients they might be missing out on, and encourage independent eating behaviors in your little sprout. By 1 year they’ll be sitting at the family table eating a well balanced meal and participating in pleasant conversation…or they’ll be like my 1 year old and use every means possible to escape from their high chair while throwing milk on the floor and using peanut butter as a deep conditioner (we can dream though right?!) #longtermgoals
When should I give my baby food other than breast milk/formula?
The typical recommendation for introducing solid food to your infant is between 6-9 months. Various studies indicate that introducing solid foods too early may lead to obesity/increased risk of food allergies and introducing too late may lead to… obesity/increased risk of food allergies. However, several studies also indicate that there are no nutritional consequences to introducing foods too early/late. Confusing right? Obviously there is still a lot of research and study to be done on this topic. What we do know is that breast fed infants need an additional source of iron around 6 months and introducing solids can help with this. We know that no two children are the same and one infant might be ready for solids at 4 months while one isn’t ready until 9 months. We also know that as the parent, you know best when your baby is ready for foods.
How can I tell if my baby is ready?
There are 2 aspects to look at when trying to determine if your baby is ready for solid foods: physical and psychological.
Physical: Between 4-6 months of age infants develop the gross and oral motor skills necessary to help them ingest more than just liquids. Infants who are ready for solids should be able to support their own head and turn it from side to side, probably staring you down while you eat your yummy cheeseburger. Your kiddo should be able to sit relatively independently (like in a high chair, on your lap… I’m not talking on a bar stool or anything like that). Also look for them to lose their extrusion reflex. If you don’t know what that is just feed a 5 month old baby food and watch them push every bit of that food out of their mouth. Babies are naturally born with this reflex, pushing all food to the front of their mouths. Around the 6 month mark they lose the extrusion reflex and learn to move food from the front of their mouth to the back with their tongue. If your baby doesn’t spit everything out when you give them solid food, they’re probably ready for it.
Psychological: Infants can show you when they’re ready for food if you’re paying attention (like when they turn their head side to side watching your cheeseburger from before). They may also open their mouth and lean forward as you are eating. They may start to hold a bottle or cup independently and start to grab foods on their own (or try to grab your food).
What should I feed my baby?
This is a loaded question and could probably be a post all on its own (which I may do one day if you’re interested) but here’s the abbreviated version. Traditionally, rice cereal was the first food recommended. Why? Because rice allergies are pretty uncommon in infants and rice is easily digestible for their young digestive system. However, rice cereal is no longer the only recommendation. In fact, you can basically start with any baby food (I personally think sweet potatoes are a great way to go). Pureed fruits, vegetables, or other cereals are all great options (just be cautious if you have a family history of food allergies). Recent studies even suggest that feeding foods with more protein or fiber may positively affect your baby’s gut microbiota and decrease their risk of obesity later on in life (no pressure parents!). My rule is that I don’t feed my baby anything I wouldn’t eat. And yes, I tried every single baby food I fed G and I completely understand why he spit out the baby rice (gross). I mean, if I don’t want to eat it, why would I expect him to? Be sure to wait a few days between introducing new foods, just to watch for any reaction. Also, wait until they are 1 year to introduce honey, and around 3 years to add any chokable foods like nuts, seeds, hot dogs, etc.
How much solid food does my baby need?
How much food your baby needs varies from child to child. Just remember to trust your baby’s hunger cues (remember what we’ve talked about? They actually stop when they’re full unlike us adults…). If they are turning their head away from the spoon, they are probably satisfied. Don’t force it. Now, if they are turning their head away from the spoon on the first bite, they might just need some extra encouragement to adjust to the new taste and texture. Learn your baby’s feeding schedule and cues and try to work as a team to make eating an enjoyable experience for everyone.
Adding new foods is such an exciting and (sometimes) intimidating time in your child’s life. Hopefully I’ve clarified a few concerns and given you some new ideas. If you have any questions, be sure to comment below!