Just when those on-demand and pumping debates about breastfeeding are starting to fade, conscientious new parents have a whole new set of baby food considerations. When is the best time to start introducing "real" food to a young child's diet?
Should it be rice, oatmeal or barley? Could Grandma possibly be right about this, or should we listen to what the doula recommended?
Thankfully, as with so many parenting issues, there is more than one way to introduce new foods and have a happy and healthy baby. But there are solid guidelines from experts, all of them focused on healthy nutrition and development along with considering each child's needs and even personality.
These tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics are geared to help you decide when your baby can begin eating solid food with a minimum clash of wills:
Form a plan for your child and no one else. According to AAP pediatrician David Hill, it's important that each child's readiness depends on his own rate of development, so it's really not that helpful to compare your infant to the kid down the street or even her own brother.
Ask the right questions. The drill does not include figuring out if you the parent are ready for this or if the rest of the babies in his age bracket are already gulping down oatmeal. Instead, Hill recommended focusing on these questions:
Is he big enough?
As a rule of thumb, when infants double their birth weight, ordinarily at about 4 months old, weighing around 13 pounds or more, they could be ready for solid foods.
Can she hold her head up?
Before attempting solid foods, your baby should be able to sit in a high chair, a feeding seat, or an infant seat and maintain good head control.
Does he open his mouth when food comes his way?
If babies are eyeing you while you eat, reaching for your food or seeming eager to eat the foods they see older folks eating, they could be ready for you to introduce real food.
Can she move the food from the spoon into her throat?
When you offer that spoonful of rice cereal only to have her push it from her mouth where it dribbles to her chin, this does not mean she doesn't like it. It's more likely she doesn't yet have the ability to move it to the back of her mouth so she can swallow it. Not to worry! That's a common, normal thing. Instead of forcing the issue, wait a week or two to try again or try diluting the cereal and making it thicker gradually.
Unless your pediatrician specifically advises you to, don't give the baby cereal from a bottle. Your baby could choke if you try the old-fashioned method of giving him his first cereal from a bottle, according to the AAP. That method of starting your baby on real food could also increase the amount of food your baby eats − and he may gain too much weight.
There are exceptions, though, such as when your pediatrician specifically prescribes cereal in a bottle for an infant with acid reflux. Just make sure to check with your child's doctor before assuming cereal from a bottle is okay.
Don't banish breast milk. For a solid start to lifetime health, the AAP recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for about 6 months. Even as you add solid food to your baby's diet, breastfeeding should continue until they are 12 months old.
Don't fret over which food to try first. If you've been around a lot of other new parents or have lots of older relatives weighing in, this may sound incredible. But according to the AAP, it really does not matter what your baby's first solid food is. It is a tradition that single-grain cereals are first up. "However, there is no medical evidence that introducing solid foods in any particular order has an advantage for your baby," Hill noted. "Although many pediatricians will recommend starting vegetables before fruits, there is no evidence that your baby will develop a dislike for vegetables if fruit is given first. Babies are born with a preference for sweets, and the order of introducing foods does not change this."
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