Introducing a baby to solid foods is a major milestone in that child’s development. While the exact time to start solids will vary between children, most babies are ready to try some kind of solid food between four and six months of age. In New Mexico, the availability of a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables this time of year make now an ideal time to start a baby on solid foods.
To determine if a child is ready to start solid foods, there are several signs to look for. Babies who are ready to start solid foods will be interested in food, be able to use their mouth to pull food off a spoon, and be able to sit upright with support.
Showing an interest in food is how most parents determine that their child is ready to try eating. Babies who try to reach for their parents’ or older siblings’ meals, place objects into their mouths, and/or simulate eating and chewing are probably ready to start. Of course, not all babies will display these behaviors. Pediatricians will usually recommend starting solid foods as soon as the baby can sit if he or she is supported. By this stage, the child will typically need more calories and protein then breast milk alone can provide in order to develop the muscles necessary for crawling.
Please note that while some sources say that a baby should not push the food out of their mouth with their tongue, this is not necessary. Keep in mind that a lot babies will do this the first few times they are introduced to solid food. This is a natural reflex in all infants, and it will take a few tries before they get used to the feeling of having food in their mouths.
There are several schools of thought behind picking the order in which to introduce foods to a baby. For many years, it was recommended to start with a single-grain cereal such as rice. This food can be mixed with breast milk or formula so that it is very similar in flavor and consistency with the child’s favorite beverage. As the child grew more accustomed to solid food, it was recommended that the parent slowly change the consistency of the cereal so that it resembled a thicker porridge. Today, new recommendations say to start a baby with pureed vegetables. The reasoning is that introducing vegetables first will cause the child to like this food more in the future. Ultimately, the decision is up to the parent.
When preparing food, place about a quarter cup in a small bowl. As the child grows, expect this amount to increase. Expect about 75% of the food to end up on the baby’s face or on the floor when first introducing solid foods. At this stage, the nutrition from the food isn’t as important as developing the skills needed to eat. When the child is no longer interested in eating, take whatever food is left in the bowl and throw it away. While this may seem wasteful, saving the food in the refrigerator after it has been exposed to the baby’s mouth via the spoon leaves it open to bacteria. While adult systems may be handle this a baby is very susceptible to problems from this.