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Introducing solid foods: What to know and when to start

As a baby grows, they begin to require more nutrients than breast milk or formula can provide alone. This is where solid foods come in. Knowing when and how to start introducing solid foods can be overwhelming, but with the right information, parents can make informed decisions for their baby’s health.

When to Start

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. However, around six months old, a baby’s iron stores start to deplete, and they require additional nutrients, like iron, that can be found in solid foods. Therefore, the AAP also recommends that parents introduce solid foods around six months of age. However, every baby is different, and some may be ready sooner or later than six months.

Indicators that a infant is prepared for introducing solid foods into their diet include:

- Sitting up with little to no support

- Having good head control

- Showing interest in food

- No longer pushing food out of their mouth with their tongue

- Being able to move food to the back of their mouth and swallow it

It’s important to note that introducing solid foods before four months of age can increase a baby’s risk of choking, and delaying solid foods beyond six months can lead to nutrient deficiencies. So, it’s crucial to pay attention to your baby’s cues and consult with your pediatrician.

What Foods to Start With

When it comes to choosing the first foods to introduce to a baby, it’s best to start with single-ingredient purees, such as iron-fortified baby cereal or pureed fruits and vegetables. This allows parents to identify any food allergies or intolerances their baby may have. It’s important to note that rice cereal should not be the only source of iron in a baby’s diet, as it may contain high levels of arsenic.

Some great first food options include:

- Avocado puree

- Sweet potato puree

- Pureed carrots

- Pureed butternut squash

- Apple puree

- Banana puree

As a baby gets more comfortable with solid foods, parents can gradually introduce more complex purees and mashed foods. It’s important to introduce one new food at a time and wait a few days to monitor any reactions or allergies.

Foods to Avoid

There are certain foods that parents should avoid introducing to their baby until they are older. These include:

- Honey: Honey can contain spores of bacteria that can cause infant botulism, a rare but serious illness.

- Salt: Babies don’t need extra salt in their diets, and consuming too much salt can be harmful to their kidneys.

- Sugar: Avoid adding sugar to a baby’s food or drinks, as it can lead to tooth decay and an unhealthy relationship with sweet foods.

- Choking hazards: Avoid giving babies foods that are hard, small, round, or sticky, as they can be choking hazards.

How to Introduce Solid Foods

When introducing solid foods, it’s important to take it slow and offer small amounts of food at a time. Start with a few spoonfuls of puree once a day and gradually increase the amount and frequency of solid foods as the baby becomes more comfortable.

Some other tips for introducing solid foods include:

- Offer solid foods after breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, when the baby is hungry but not too hungry.

- Use a soft, small spoon to feed the baby and allow them to touch and explore the food with their hands.

- Make sure the baby is sitting up straight and not reclined when eating to avoid choking.

- Be patient and understanding if the baby doesn’t seem interested in a particular food. It may take several attempts before they start to enjoy it.

As the baby gets older, parents can begin to offer a wider variety of foods, including mashed or chopped versions of the foods they already enjoy. It’s important to continue to offer a variety of nutrient-dense foods to ensure the baby is getting all the nutrients they need.

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