Sometime between your little one’s four-month and six-month birthdays, your pediatrician will give you the green light to start baby on solids, or “real food.” When that time comes, you’ll want to be prepared with all of the necessary essentials, such as a soft silicone spoon, a Roll-Up Bib, a suction bowl — and, of course, your smartphone to capture the special moment on video!
Why wait until the four-to-six-month timeframe? For a few reasons: Before then, your baby still has a strong tongue-thrust reflex, which instinctively leads her to push out food and spoons from her mouth. Many babies also have a powerful gag reflex that’s still in full effect before that age, and others need even more time to strengthen the muscles that help them swallow and coordinate their feeding-related movements.
If your baby is ready and raring to try his first solid food, here’s how to make the transition as seamless and successful as possible.
Make Cereal the First Solid
Many pediatricians recommend kicking off baby’s foray into solids with cereal — for instance rice, oatmeal or barley. To help ease the transition, simply mix it in with breast milk or formula, and slowly increase the amount of cereal until your baby is used to eating it. A feeding spoon with soft silicone works well for introducing your baby to cereals (avoid putting the cereal directly into the bottle). After your baby has tried a few cereals, you can start to introduce soft, mashed veggies and ripe fruits as well as purees (make your own or buy them premade), and let your baby eat with her hands or a spoon. If you’re offering purees, you’ll want to start with basic flavors — as in applesauce — and as your baby’s palate and skills develop, you can try more flavorful fruit recipes.
Many parents also wonder when it’s OK to start giving a baby water, after months of feeding her only breast milk or formula. “You can start giving your child water at this time as well,” says Dr. Alison Mitzner, a pediatrician in New York City, “either with a bottle or a sippy cup.” Don’t be surprised if it takes them some time to learn how to sip and swallow the water.
Start With One New Food at a Time
Whenever you start solids, be it right at four months or well past six months, aim to introduce one food at a time, and wait two to five days before introducing another so you can check for allergic reactions. Start simple — think mashed banana or avocado — and offer tiny bites. After six months, you can let your baby try finger foods like roasted pieces of sweet potato, or other soft-cooked vegetables — and it might even be fun to have baby sit at the table with you during grownup meals. Make eating easier by cutting the foods you’re serving your baby into portions small enough for him to grip with his hand.
Introduce Allergens Early On
Much to the surprise of many parents, pediatricians usually suggest introducing allergy-causing foods early in the feeding process (think dairy, eggs and peanut butter — the most common food allergies in childhood). “Studies show that when children are exposed to these foods early on, and given the foods daily for six months, it dramatically decreases their chances of developing allergies to these products,” says Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatric obesity specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Since plenty of parents find it challenging to prepare those foods for their little ones every day, Ganjian recommends certain pre-made foods, such as non-sweetened yogurts, as a great first step.
Stay the Course
It may take some time for your baby to take to a new food. Keep in mind that even if she makes faces, she may actually like the food you’re presenting and take more of it, which is why it’s especially important for you to be patient and keep trying. As Dr. Mitzner points out, “Your child will need practice with the textures, with the tastes, with the spoon and more — so be ready for a mess!” For more inspiration on what to feed your baby as she embarks on her solids adventure, check out the OXO blog.