As a new parent, you might have some anxiety about transitioning your baby from breastmilk or formula to solid food and wonder, “When is the best time and what type of food should my baby be eating?”
The answers can be different for everyone and each child, but Leah Meidl, Med/Peds nurse practitioner at Marshfield Clinic Health System, shares some recommendations to get you started.
Liquids for six months
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that baby be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Although babies are interested in other foods at four months old, they are not always ready. According to AAP, “solid feeding is discouraged until about six months of age.”
“Parents should not be too concerned if baby does not take to baby foods right away,” Meidl said. “All babies are different. Some prefer to be fed with a spoon, others prefer to pick up small-sized pieces and feed themselves. There is really no right or wrong way.”
Try different types of food
In the past, specific timelines were recommended on what food to introduce and when. Extensive research has found it better to introduce new food sooner to decrease the likelihood of food allergies.
“The push to start with rice cereal has gone by the wayside,” Meidl said. “Starting with an infant oatmeal cereal is a good first food because you can mix with breastmilk or formula to any thickness, but it is not necessary. Starting with fruits or vegetables is fine, too.”
Meidl said some experts recommend vegetables before fruits because the sweetness can make babies refuse vegetables. However, she said there is no perfect first food, it is about what works best for your family.
Watching your baby try new foods is so much fun,” she said. “Don’t worry too much about what and when, just enjoy it.”
Meidl recommends introducing one new food at a time to observe if your baby has a reaction. Peanut butter is good to try early to help avoid peanut allergies. Meidl suggests mixing a small amount of peanut butter in the infant’s cereal.
Honey is the only food to stay away from until 12 months old because of the risk of botulism, a rare and potentially fatal illness caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.
Use caution when trying new foods
Choking is the biggest concern during introduction to new foods, so always pay attention to the size of food.
“A piece of any food cut to the size of a Cheerio is your safest option,” Meidl said.
Be cautious with feeding your baby tubular foods like hotdogs and string cheese because they are close to the size of their airway. Cut them in half the long way or even quarter-side, and then cut those pieces into slices. Also, make sure to cut grapes into small pieces, avoid popcorn, nuts and seeds, and use caution with apple pieces and the peel.
Make your own baby food
If you are unsure about starting table food right away, baby food is a great option.
There’s no need for fancy baby food makers, Meidl said homemade baby food is quite easy to make.
Simply prepare vegetables or fruits to soften (steaming keeps in the most nutrients). Then, puree with a mixer, food processor or a hand mixer. Once blended, you can freeze the food in ice cube trays.
“It makes perfect little portions to feed your little one,” she said.
Eat with your baby
In England and other countries, baby-led weaning is a popular tactic to start feeding your baby solid food. This practice eliminates feeding pureed foods and allows baby to progress right to table foods. Meidl said this method is gaining popularity in the U.S., which allows baby to feed themselves at their own pace and better explore food textures.
She encourages parents to include infants in mealtimes. Move the high chair right up to the table so baby can participate. If you plan to eat out, throw some bite-size items like Cheerios and baby puffs in your diaper bag to keep baby occupied.
“Throw a few pieces cut up on their tray, and let baby explore and develop those fine motor skills,” she said. “They will be so proud of themselves.”
Talk with your pediatric provider if you have additional questions about what to feed your baby.