For the first five or six months of life, babies get all their calories, nutrients, and water from breast milk or formula; at around age six months, they can begin transitioning to solid foods. Doctors recommend that parents not begin feeding their infants solids before this age for a number of reasons. First, younger infants have not yet developed the physical coordination in their mouths and throats to manage solid foods and can easily choke on baby food. Secondly, research has shown that babies are much more likely to develop food allergies to any foods they try before age six months. Lastly, young infants still need the unique nutrient compounds only found in breast milk and baby formula at this point in their life.
Most of the time, babies will communicate they are ready to begin eating solid foods. Caregivers may notice their infant watching adults eat and wanting to be involved at dining situations. In addition, babies may begin waking up in the middle of the night hungry again, even though they had been sleeping through the night for weeks or months. As well, they may continue to cry and to act hungry after feedings, especially if they're eating 32 ounces or more of formula or breast milk in a day. However, it's important to discuss solid food introduction and options with the pediatrician to make sure that baby's unique nutritional and medical needs are being addressed.
What Solid Foods to Introduce
One of the first solid foods parents can give their infant is baby rice cereal mixed with formula or breast milk. Caregivers can now give the baby both a bottle or breast and some cereal for about two meals a day. Rice cereal made especially for babies is fortified with the iron and other nutrients they need, and adding formula or breast milk increases its nutritional value. As well, babies will try the cereal more easily because they'll recognize the scent and taste of the milk. After a few weeks or a month of feeding cereal in addition to bottles or breast, caregivers can begin gradually adding new foods. Doctors recommend trying only trying one new food a week to watch for any potential food allergies.
Around age 7 months, parents and caregivers can start to introduce pureed and strained fruits and vegetables. Parents can choose to make their own baby food, but most buy already-prepared baby foods also be fortified with extra vitamins and minerals. Some good first foods are bananas, pears, applesauce, squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes. There is now a wide variety of baby foods available. Between ages 7 and 9 months, caregivers can also begin introducing strained meats and other baby entrees, such as chicken or macaroni and cheese. They can also begin providing finger foods that do not pose a choking hazard, such as oat cereal O's and small pieces of fruit. Once again, consult with the pediatrician about what is appropriate for the baby's particular needs and growth.