When giving your baby solid foods for the first time, take it slow and easy. Your child is not likely to sit down to three square meals of carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and protein. First foods are only intended to supplement, not instantly replace, bottle- or breast-feeding. Breast milk and/or formula should still make up the bulk of your baby's diet for the first month or two of solid feedings.
In choosing what to feed your child, keep in mind that breast milk or formula still supplies almost everything your baby needs in terms of balanced nutrition: protein, calcium and other minerals, and most vitamins. As long as all of your baby's nutritional needs are met by breast milk or formula, you won't need to fret over introducing a balanced diet of solids. You can serve him anything he likes (as long as it's safe).
Start Me Up
Don't mix your baby's cereal with cow's milk unless and until your pediatrician gives you an okay. In some rare cases, cow's milk can cause allergic reactions or other health complications when consumed by young infants.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends baby cereal, the traditional first food, as the best start-up food for a baby. It's simple to make and easy to alter the consistency by adding more or less liquid to suit your baby's needs. Baby cereal (rice, barley, or oats) is also easily digested and unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. In addition, because most baby cereal is fortified with iron (which breast milk lacks almost entirely), it's an especially good first food for a breast-fed baby.
Don't succumb to the temptation to sweeten your baby's cereal before he has had a chance to taste it plain (that is, mixed with water only). To you, it may seem bland this way, but then you have had considerably more experience with food. Most babies seem to like plain baby cereal. If your baby does turn up his nose at plain cereal mixed with water, try sweetening it with a bit of formula, expressed breast milk, or a clear juice such as apple, pear, or-later-grape. There's no need to add sugar.
Varying the Menu
As soon as your baby has begun to accept the basic concept of eating solid foods, you can begin to introduce greater variety into her diet. With your guidance, your baby will be excited to discover that foods have different flavors and different textures.
Be sure to introduce just one new food at a time in very small amounts. Then wait two or three days before offering her anything else new (although you can, of course, give her anything she's enjoyed before). By introducing new foods one at a time, you'll instantly know which food is responsible if your baby has a food reaction (indigestion or an allergy marked by diarrhea, a rash, or otherwise unexplained crankiness, for example). If your baby does have an adverse reaction to a particular food, don't offer it to her again for a couple of months. By then, she may tolerate it better.
As you gradually add more foods to your baby's diet, aim to provide balanced nutrition. Breast milk and formula, for example, are both rich in protein. So, if you still nurse or bottle-feed your baby several times a day, she will need little more in the way of protein (fish, meat, soy products). Instead, load up on grains (cereal, bread, pasta), fruits, and vegetables during the first months of feeding your baby solids.
Avoid citrus fruits (and juices) and berries for the first few months. The high acidity of citrus fruits make them more difficult for a baby to digest, and berries are a common allergen.
- Grains. After starting with rice cereal (the easiest to digest), move on to the greater variety and complexity of barley, oat, and mixed baby cereals. Then you can gradually add bread and pasta (macaroni or spaghetti cut into small strands) during the fifth or sixth month.
- Fruits and vegetables. Most babies love fruits, and many love vegetables, too. However, it might be wise to introduce vegetables before you introduce fruits. Otherwise, your baby may develop such a taste for sweet foods like fruits that she rejects vegetables. Start with vegetables that seem to find the most favor (carrots and sweet potatoes), and then move on to peas and beans. Your baby will also enjoy a wide variety of fruits including apples, pears, bananas, apricots, peaches, plums, prunes, and so on.
- Meats. Hold off on these high-protein foods until your baby is at least seven or eight months old.
- Eggs and Dairy Products. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend introducing eggs, milk, or milk products (including yogurts, cheeses, and, of course, ice cream) before a baby's first birthday. If you want to introduce dairy products earlier, wait until your baby is at least 8 to 10 months old. Even then, consult with your pediatrician first-especially if your baby hasn't tolerated cow's-milk based formula.
As you introduce new foods into your baby's diet, keep in mind that the tastes she develops during her infancy and childhood will probably be the ones she prefers throughout her life. So choose foods for her wisely.
When your baby starts eating solids, she should also start drinking liquids other than breast milk or formula. A half-ounce to an ounce of water or very diluted fruit juice should do at first. After all, she gets plenty of liquid through the breast or bottle. As your baby's breast-feeding or bottle-feeding begins to wane, however, be sure to increase not only the amount of solids she's eating (to replace lost calories), but also her liquid intake (to replace lost fluids). Otherwise, your baby may become dehydrated. (By the sixth month, encourage your baby to drink all fluids other than breast milk or formula from a cup rather than a bottle.)