Introducing Solid Foods: When, What, and How - Part One

Aug 16


Sally Michener

Sally Michener

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This article provides information on why wait, infant feeding at a glance, feeding solids: six to nine months, and feeding strategies. There will be more on safe toddler (one year and older) feeding tips, feeding solids: nine to twelve months, making your own baby food, commercial baby food, and bring out the cup in Parts Two and Three, so keep an eye out for these articles.


During a four-or six-month checkup,Introducing Solid Foods: When, What, and How - Part One Articles you will probably like to ask your doctor, "when should I start solid food?" Perhaps one way to know when to begin giving your baby solid foods is when he starts "smooching." Smooching is when he shows signs that he is interested, watches you eat. When his eyes follow your food as you move it from your plate to your mouth, when his hands reach out and grab my food and he is able to sit up in a high chair and join us at he table, then it's time for the fun of solids to begin.

Experienced mothers have discovered a basic principle of introducing solids foods -- feed babies according to their own developmental skills rather than a preset calendar or clock. babies'; appetites and feeding skills are as individual as their temperaments. Let's feed them that way.

Over the years infant-feeding practices have changed -- for the better. No longer do we feed babies according to the calendar, stuffing cereal into the reluctant six-week-old and feeling we have failed if baby has not taken a full-course meal by six months. Today, infant feeding involves matching good nutrition with individual developmental and intestinal readiness, which varies widely from baby to baby. Reading the feeding cues of your baby, introducing solid foods gradually, and encouraging self-feeding all lead to that important principle of baby feeding: creating a healthy feeding attitude.

Why Wait?
You and your three-month-old are comfortably breastfeeding, and baby certainly seems to be getting enough to eat. Now comes the daily phone call from the family nutritionist -- your mother. "What is he eating now, dear?" Silence. You've been caught! The jars of baby food that grandmother bought are still unopened. Baby has not seemed interested, and you do not feel he is ready. You smoothly change the subject, defending your choice not to enter the race for solids just ye. (When this confrontation happens just "Make your doctor the scapegoat. Tell grandmother that Dr. Bill advised you to wait a while longer."

Baby's tongue movements and swallowing skills are the first clues to delaying solid foods. In the early months, babies have a tongue-thrust reflex that causes the tongue to automatically protrude outward when any foreign substance is placed upon it. This may be a protective reflex against choking on solids too early. Between four and six months this tongue-thrust reflex diminishes. Also, prior to six months of age many infants do not have good coordination of tongue and swallowing movements for solid foods. An added sign that babies were not designed for early introduction to solid foods is that teeth seldom appear until six or seven months, further evidence that the young infant is primarily designed to suck, rather than to chew.

Not only is the upper end of baby's digestive tract not designed for early solids, neither are baby's insides. A baby's immature intestines are not equipped to handle a variety of foods until around six months, when many digestive enzymes seem to click in. Pediatric allergists discourage early introduction of foods especially if there is a strong family history of food allergies. Research shows that starting solids before six months increases the risk of allergies. Maturing intestines secrete the protein immunoglobulin IgA, which acts like a protective paint, coating the intestines and preventing the passage of harmful allergens (cow's milk, wheat, and soy are common examples of foods causing allergies when introduced early)(. This protective IgA is low in the early months and does not reach peak production until around seven months of age. As the intestines maturee, they become more nutritionally selective, filtering out offending food allergens. Babies whose systems tend to be allergy-prone actually may show delayed willingness to accept solids -- a built-in self-protective mechanism.

Infant Feeding At a Glance
Age - Birth to 6 months
Food Sequence
Breast milk and/or iron-fortified formula satisfies all nutritional requirements.
Solid foods not nutritionally needed under 6 months of age.
Food Presentation
Breast and/or bottle
Developmental Skills, Implications for Feeding
Designed to suck, not chew
Rooting reflex; searches for food source
Tongue-thrust reflex pushes out solid foods
Sensitive gag reflex

Age - 6 months
Food Sequence
Starter foods:
rice cereal
Food Presentation
Strained, pureed
Small spoonful
Developmental Skills, Implications for Feeding
Tongue-thrust and gag reflexes lessen; accepts solids
Sits erect in high chair
Begins teething

Age - 7 to 9 months
Food Sequence
sweet potatoes or yams
mashed potatoes
barley cereal
teething biscuits
pear and apple juice, diluted
Food Presentation
May drink from cup
Finger foods begin
Pureed and mashed foods
Holds bottle
Developmental Skills, Implications for Feeding
Thumb-and-forefinger pickup begins
Fascination with tiny food morsels
Begins mouthing chokable food and objects (parents beware!)
Bangs, drops, flings
Reaches for food and utensils
Munches food

Age - 9 to 12 months
Food Sequence
lamb, veal tofu
poultry beans
rice cakes peas
egg yolk oatmeal
cheese spinach
Food Presentation
Lumpier consistency
Finger foods mastered
Bite-size cooked vegetables
Melt-in-mouth foods
Holds trainer cup
Developmental Skills, Implications for Feeding
Self-feeding skills improve
Holds bottle and cup longer
Points and pokes, smears, enjoys mess
High-chair gymnastics increase
Tries to use utensils, spills most

Age - 12 to 18 months
Food Sequence
whole milk apricots
cottage cheese grapefruit
ice cream grape halves
whole eggs strawberries
beef tomatoes
fish (salmon) pasta
broccoli graham crackers
cauliflower wheat cereal
melon honey
mango pancakes
kiwi muffins
papaya bagel
Food Presentation
Participates in family meals
Eats chopped and mashed family foods
Begins self-feeding with utensils
Developmental Skills, Implications for Feeding
Has prolonged attention span
"Do it myself" desire intensifies
Tilts cup and head while drinking; spills less
Holds spoon better, still spills much
Begins walking -- doesn't want to sit still and eat
Picks at others' plates

Age - 18 to 24 months
Food Sequence
Eats toddler-size portions of:
sandwiches stews
nutritious puddings sauces
dips smoothies
toppings shakes
spreads pate
Toddler food "language":
avocado boats O-shaped cereal
cooked carrot wheels toast sticks
cheese blocks cookie-cutter sandwich
broccoli trees canoe eggs
Food Presentation
Grazes -- deserves title "picky eater"
Nibble tray
Weans from bottle
Uses spoon and fork
Developmental Skills, Implications for Feeding
Molars appear -- begins rotary chewing
Spoon-feeds self without spilling much
Learns food talk, signals for "more," "all done"
Wants to eat on the run -- needs creative feeding to hold attention at table
Has erratic feeding habits

Feeding Solids: Six to Nine Months
Breast milk or commercial formula with iron or a combination of the two contains all the essential nutrients your baby needs for the fist six to nine months. Consider solid foods as an addition to, not a substitute for, breast milk or formula. For a breastfeeding baby it's best to start solid foods slowly so they don't replace the more nutritious breast milk.

Ready-to-Eat Signs
Baby may start begging -- reaching for the food on your plate, grabbing your spoon, looking at you hungrily, and mimicking feeding behaviors such as opening her mouth wide when you open your mouth to eat. Sometimes babies are more interested in the utensils than the actual food. If your baby shows interest in watching you eat, try offering her just a spoon to play with (preferably a sturdy plastic spoon -- they make less noise when banged). If baby is content with the spoon, then the toy is desired more than the food. When baby continues showing interest, it's time for the fun to begin. Also, the ability to sit up in a high chair and pick up food with thumb and forefinger are other signs that baby is ready for solids.

First Feeding
Start with solids that are the least allergenic (see my Article Feeding the Toddler - One to Two Years) and the closest to breast milk in taste and consistency. Examples of favorite first foods include mashed ripe bananas or rice cereal mixed with breast milk or formula. (See "Constipation When Starting Solids," farther on in this article.)

Place a finger-tip-full of banana (mashed to soupy) on baby's lips, letting her suck your finger as she usually does. Once she is introduced to the new taste, gradually increase the amount and thickness of the food, placing a blob toward the middle of baby's tongue. Watch baby's reaction. If the food goes in accompanied by an approving smile, baby is ready and willing. If the food comes back at you accompanied by a disapproving grimace, baby is not ready.

If baby spews the glob back at you, don't take this first impression personally. Your infant has not yet learned the developmental skill of sealing the mouth shut, sweeping the food from front to back, and then swallowing. If your baby just sits there confused, her mouth open, with a glob of food perched on her tongue, her persistent tongue-thrust reflex is giving the developmental clue to shut the door and come back later.

First Spoon - It is advised that baby's first "spoon" be your finger. It is soft, at the right temperature, and by this stage baby is very familiar with its feel. Your finger also knows if food is too hot. Few babies like to begin their feeding life with a silver spoon in their mouth. Metal holds the heat in, so each bites takes longer if you have to blow to cool food that is too hot. A hungry baby finds this infuriating! A coated baby spoon is a good starter utensil. Use shatterproof plastic bowls that can survive battering on the high-chair tray and numerous tumbles to the floor.

Progressing with Solids
Beginning with rice cereal or bananas as a test dose, progress from a finger-tip-full to a half teaspoon to one teaspoon, then a tablespoon, then around two ounces, or half a jar. Advance from soupy to pasty to lumpy consistency. Remember, your initial goal is to introduce baby to the new taste and touch of solids, not to stuff baby. Gradually vary the texture and amount to git the eating skills and appetite of your baby. Some like solids of thinner consistency and want a largeramount; some do better with thicker solids and smaller amounts. Expect erratic eating habits. Your baby may take a whole jar one day, but only a teaspoon the next.

Keeping a favorite-Food Diary
You might find it helpful to make a food diary with four columns on a page. In the first column list the foods that baby seems to like; in the second column, foods that you have found by trial and error that baby does not like; in the third column, possibly allergenic foods and the signs of allergies; and in the fourth column, the techniques you have learned to get more food into your baby with the minimum of hassles. The food diary helps you learn your baby's food preferences and capabilities at each state of development and is another way of getting to know and enjoy your baby. In case your baby may be intolerant to or allergic to a certain food, space each new food at least a week apart and keep a diary of which foods baby may be sensitive to or simply doesn't like. Also, the timing and progression of solids is much slower in the allergic baby.

Favorite First Foods
rice cereal peaches
barley cereal applesauce
bananas carrots
pears squash
avocados sweet potatoes

How Much To Feed
After baby eagerly accepts the first finger-tip-full of food, gradually increase the amount. Remember that tiny babies have tiny tunnies, about the size of their fists. So don't expect baby to take more than one isful of food at one feeding. Expect erratic eating patterns. Baby may eat a couple tablespoons one day and only one the next.

When to Feed
Offer solids at the time of the day when your baby seems hungriest, bored, or when you both need a change of pace. Choose a time of the day that is most convenient for you, since a little mess is part of the feeding game. Mornings are usually the best time for offering solids to formula-fed babies, because you have the most time with your infant and usually do not have to worry about preparing a meal for the rest of the family. If breastfeeding, offer solids when you milk supply is lowest, usually toward the end of the day. feed your baby solids between breastfeeding. Solid foods may interfere with absorption of valuable breast milk iron if both solids and breast milk are fed at the same time.

Grazing. Since babies have no concept of breakfast, lunch, and dinner it makes no difference whether they receive vegetables for breakfast, or cereal and fruit for dinner. If you have a mental picture of your baby sitting still in a high chair eating three square meals a day, forget it! Babies don't sit still very long in one place even to play, let alone to eat. Allow your baby the fine art of grazing. Remember, tiny eaters have tiny tummies. Nibbling throughout the day is nutritionally better than eating three big meals. Three squares a day is more of an adult pattern, and, for that matter, even for us it is not as healthy as more frequent, smaller meals.

Forget fast feeding. Try to time baby's feedings for when you are not in a hurry. Infant feedings are very time-consuming. Babies dawdle, dabble, spew, spatter, smear, drop, and fling.

Feeding Strategies
To get more food into your baby than onto the floor, mix together your child's developing skills with a large pinch of patience and sprinkle in a few laughs. Here are some tips to help get more food into your baby with fewer hassles.

Enjoy table talk. Eating is a social interaction. As you offer your baby solids, consider that he may be thinking. "Something new is coming from someone I love and trust." Talk about both the food and the procedure so that baby learns to relate the words with the type of foods and the interactions that follow. Here is an example you might try. "Anthony want carrots... open your mouth!" as you approach Anthony's mouth with the solids-laden spoon. As you asked Anthony to open his mouth, you also opened your mouth wide, and he will mimick your facial gestures. Eager eyes, open hands, and open mouth are body language clues that baby is ready to eat.

Show and tell. To entire the reluctant eater to eat, model enjoyment. Capitalizing on baby's newly developing social skill -- mimicking her caregivers' actions -- feed yourself in front of baby, but an an exaggerated way, slowly putting a spoonful of baby's food into your mouth. With big wide-open eyes showing how much you enjoy the taste, overreact, saying "Mmmmm, good!" Let baby catch the spirit and want to do likewise.

Open mouth, insert spoon. Wait for a time when baby is hungry and in a mood for facial gestures and interaction. As you engage your baby face-to-face, open your mouth wide and say, "Open mouth!" Once your baby opens the "door," put the food in,.

Use lip service. Try the "upper lip sweep." As you place a spoonful of solids in your baby's mouth, gently lift the spoon upward, allowing the upper lip to sweep off the food.

Observe stop signs. Pursed lips, closed mouth, head turning away from the approaching spoon, are all signs that your baby does not want to eat right now. Perhaps at this time baby wants to play, sleep, or simply is not interested or hungry. Don't force-feed. Some babies eagerly take solids by six months, while others show little interest as late as nine to twelve months. You wan your baby to develop a healthy attitude toward both the food and the feeding.

Avoid nighttime stuffing. Cereals are often advised as fillers, something to feed your baby to lengthen the intervals between breastfeeding or bottles and to encourage baby to sleep through the night. Not only does this filler fallacy seldom work, it may create problems in appetite control at an early age, thus contributing to eventual obesity. Baby may need other forms of interaction between bottle-feedings, not just to be filled up. Remember that milk, either breast or formula, is still the most important nutrition at this stage. Avoid the urge to fill your baby up with solids before bedtime in a desperate hope that baby will sleep through the night. As tired parents, it is easy to consider this temptation. Controlled studies have shown, however, that infants who are fed solids before bedtime d not sleep through the night any sooner than infants who do not get the before-bed stuffing.

Encourage self-feeding. Around six months babies begin to develop two exciting skills that, when perfected, will make feeding much easier: the ability to sit up well in a high chair or on your lap and the ability to reach for food in front of them. Some babies simply hate having food come at them on a spoon and resist solids until you figure out that Mr. Independent wants to do it himself. Place a bit of mashed banana within grabbing distance on his table or high-chair tray. Around six months babies pounce on anything of interest placed in front of them. You will notice your baby capture this enticing material in his fist and gradually zero in on his mouth. By nine to ten months baby will be using his thumb and index finger to pick up small tidbits. In the beginning states of finding his mouth, bay may have more misses than hits, resulting in much of the food being splattered over his cheeks or on the floor, As one mother of a messy self-feeder put it, "The floor has a more balance diet than my baby does." It helps to remember that at this stage baby doesn't need the solid food -- feeding is still in the explore category.

Get the messy feeder to clean up his act. To keep baby from grabbing the spoon, sending the contents flying, give him something to hold on to, another spoon or even a toy. Don't punish him for making a mess or wanting to be part of the action. If you are really intent on getting something into your baby, gently hold both his hands in your free hand while you "chat him up" or even sign his favorite ditty to distract him from wanting to "help" too much. Expect baby to treat solids as toys. He's feeding his intellect while you are more intent on feeding his body. Don't fret! Your breast milk has all the nutritional bases covered. You can afford to let baby have his science lesson. When the flinging and spitting escalate, simply take the food away. When he's really hungry, instinct will take over, and he'll realize the food will do wonders to satisfy that big empty spot in his tummy.

Help your baby develop an interest in solids. Capitalize on a new social skill that develops between six and nine months -- baby's desire to mimic the actions of her caregivers. Let your baby watch you eat and enjoy food. Teach by example: Prepare a small amount of infant food, such as rice cereal or mashed bananas, and take a bite yourself as you exclaim, "Ummmmmm gooooood!" Some babies at this age are somewhat reluctant to try anything new. Take a few bites of any new food yourself. Let baby catch the spirit by watching you enjoy this new food.

Rotate foods. Infants become bored with too much of the same food. Expect your baby to refuse previous favorites periodically. Take this as a sign that baby needs more variety in the menu.

Avoid mixed foods. Introduce single foods rather than several foods mixed together. In case baby is allergic to or dislikes a food, offering a single food makes it easier to identify the culprit. Once you know certain foods are OK, you can combine them in one meal. In fact, a little dollop of fruit on the tip of a spoonful of meat or vegetables can sometimes get the less favored taste past the sentry.

Pass on the salt; skip the sugar. Parents, you are the taste makers of the next generation. If your infant grows up accustomed to sweetened and salted foods, it may be difficult to kick this taste later on.

There will be more articles on infants, breast or bottle feeding and other related topics to follow. So please keep an eye out for more of my articles.

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