There are many misconceptions out there about when you should start to feed your baby solid food.
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For a typical healthy child, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends starting to introduce solid food for infants at around 6 months of age. But the conversation about solid foods may start earlier with your pediatrician, and some babies may be able to begin slightly earlier.
“Feeding your baby is an important step in their development, a time to teach your child about new flavors and textures, and a great way to establish healthy eating habits,” says pediatrician Noah Schwartz, MD.
“However, it’s important to remember that breast milk or formula will always be their primary source of nutrition until they turn 1 year old. All the foods and flavors you expose them to is merely to help them expand their palate. They are likely not going to eat enough to replace the nutrition and calories their milk provides.”
According to Dr. Schwartz, “before one, food’s just for fun.” He says this is a time to teach your baby to like the foods and flavors that are a part of your diet, but don’t expect or give them solids as a three-course meal.
“I typically start talking with families about starting solids at the 4-month visit,” says Dr. Schwartz. “It’s important for your pediatrician to assess the overall health and developmental level of your baby before starting food.”
While some babies can be ready for solids soon after turning 4 months old, others may benefit from waiting until 6 months for the following reasons:
- Solid foods aren’t as nutritious as breast milk or formula, which are essential for proper growth and brain development in young infants.
- Solid foods are harder to swallow. A baby may not be developed enough to swallow solid food properly before 6 months.
There are instances where introducing solids around 4 months may be beneficial. A landmark study in 2015 showed that for infants with certain risk factors, such as eczema or egg allergy, introducing peanuts earlier in life actually helped prevent the development of peanut allergies.
“This study went against everything we had previously understood and recommended, but I now I start talking about peanut exposure at the 4-month visit,” says Dr. Schwartz.
What to feed your baby
When the time is right to start feeding your baby solids, start with simple textures and flavors.
“I recommend starting with an infant oatmeal cereal,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Once I know they can handle the texture, I start introducing new foods every other day or so, just to make sure they tolerate it.”
It’s important to stick with a pureed consistency initially, and always alternate the types of foods you offer. “I recommend switching from a fruit to a veggie base,” Dr. Schwartz says. “I also recommend keeping some pureed prunes or other fiber-rich foods on hand to help keep their stool soft and avoid constipation. Solid foods can change your infant’s stooling pattern and consistency.”
What shouldn’t you feed your baby?
To know what foods to avoid for your infant, there are a few rules to follow:
- Avoid large shapes and sizes and hard food items that could pose as a choking hazard.
- Make sure the food is not hot or too cold, and avoid spicy foods.
- The AAP recommends avoiding giving honey to infants under 12 months. It can contain botulism, which is especially dangerous for young infants.
- Do not give juice, sweets or junk food as they are high in sugar and low in nutrients. They also encourage unhealthy eating habits and can predispose your child to obesity.
“If families want to feel more comfortable as they start to introduce foods, I think it’s a great idea to take an infant CPR course,” Dr. Schwartz says. “Parents should be equipped with these life-saving skills just in case their child gets into something inappropriate.”
With all the available information online and on social media, it’s important to talk with your pediatrician about how to safely and appropriately start introducing solids.
“Feeding your baby should be a fun and exciting experience for both you and your infant,” Dr. Schwartz says. “If you find yourself stressed or confused, call us. We’d love to help you make sure you’re doing exactly what’s best for your baby.”