Honey is not safe for children under age one, because of an illness called infant botulism. Avoid hard, small, round, smooth or sticky foods. For instance, nuts, grapes, hot dog pieces and hard vegetables can all be choking hazards. Stay away from raw or undercooked meats, eggs or fish, and unpasteurized milk or milk products.
Do not offer children sugary beverages like pop or juice. Juice has lots of sugar and very little nutrition. Drinking it can lead to diarrhea and tooth decay. In general, select foods with little or no added sugar or salt. Keep in mind that fats are an important source of energy for young children. Low fat and diet foods are not appropriate.
Until solids are introduced, it is strongly recommended that a baby be exclusively breastfed. Breastfeeding gives important early immunity to your baby, and allows an excellent bonding opportunity with mom. It is also the best balance of the nutrition your baby needs, and costs zero dollars. Supplement exclusively breastfed babies with vitamin D drops. Once solids are introduced, breastfeeding is still encouraged until two years of age.
For a number of reasons, breastfeeding may not be possible. If this is true for you, offer commercial infant formula instead. Cow’s milk based formulas are recommended. True cow’s milk allergy is rare, and soy, rice or other plant-based beverages may not be appropriate. If you think your baby is not tolerating cow’s milk based formula, discuss alternatives with your doctor before using a substitute. Once solids are introduced, continue with formula until 12 months of age.
Once your baby is about six months old, complementary foods are needed to support growth, satisfy hunger, and supplement energy and nutrient needs. Some infants will be ready to try solids a few weeks earlier. Others are not ready until a little after the six-month mark.
Watch your child for signs of readiness. Key things to look for include better head control and the ability to sit up and lean forward. By this age, the baby might be showing interest in what others are eating. She may be reaching, grasping, and trying to put food in her mouth. Between four to six months, babies typically stop using their tongues to push food out of their mouths. They develop the coordination to move food from the front of the mouth to the back for swallowing. Put a little bit of baby cereal on a spoon and see where it goes — right back out or down the hatch? As well, after six months caregivers are better at reading baby’s signals of fullness. For instance, your infant may turn her head away and refuse further food.
Introducing solids too early will not solve some of the many challenges faced by new parents. Starting with cereal earlier than four months will not help a baby sleep through the night. It may do harm, since the baby is not developmentally ready for solids. As well, it will do little to manage bowel function like constipation, soft stools or regurgitation (spit up). Babies have a wide variation in what is ‘normal’ for poops and spit up. If you have concerns, discuss them with your care provider before changing your baby’s diet.
When your baby shows interest in food and appears ready to swallow solids, it is important to start off with iron-rich foods. After six months, breast milk can no longer provide enough iron. Since it is needed for brain development and other functions, a good source of iron is the best choice for a first solid food. Consider soft meat and alternatives like eggs, legumes, tofu, or iron-fortified cereals.
Introduce one food at a time. Allow a few days in between new additions. Gradually increase the number of times new foods are offered, while continuing to breast or formula feed.
It is not necessary to avoid certain foods to prevent allergies. In fact, foods like eggs, fish, wheat and soy should be introduced early in order to develop ‘immunologic tolerance’. This allows the body to get used to these foods. When your baby is about a year old, offer cow’s milk. It should be 3.25 per cent milk fat (homo or whole milk). Offering cow’s milk before this time can lead to iron deficiency. The baby will fill up on the milk and not get the nutrition needed from other whole foods.
Once iron-rich foods are tolerated well, continue introducing a variety of nutritious foods. Use the same food for your baby that you make for the rest of the family. Modify a family meal by mashing, blending, and later cutting up food into small pieces. This strategy adds variety, and you avoid becoming a short order cook. Sharing the family meal with a baby also helps in making wise nutritional choices that set a good example. Everyone begins to consider food groups and portion sizes. Meat and fish, vegetables and fruit, grains, and dairy should be a part of every family member’s diet.
Some families have food restrictions, such as celiac disease or being vegetarian. In this case, talk with your care provider about how to meet your baby’s dietary needs. Adult restrictions are not always appropriate for a child.
In addition to deciding what to feed your baby, consider how to deliver the choices. Vary textures as well as tastes. Offer lumpy food textures no later than nine months, or your baby may refuse to eat them. Encourage self-feeding by offering finger foods once your child is eight to ten months old. Examples include soft fruits, bits of pasta, or small chunks of cheese. Use open cups to teach coordination, with help at first. Of course, some of these suggestions will mean a messier baby and kitchen. You must decide on your priorities and what you are able to tolerate.
Many parents worry about whether their baby is eating enough and eating right. Routinely monitoring your child’s growth is the best way to assess health and nutrition. Visit your care provider regularly. Relax and remember that eating meals together is good for baby and the family. Encourage exploration, avoid power struggles, and enjoy what can be a very fun (and funny) learning process.