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Starting Solids

Here are tips for starting your baby on solid foods, and some red flags for food allergies.

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Starting Solids

Parents often tell me that once they got the hang of it, learning to feed a newborn was a relative breeze compared to introducing solids to an older infant. I agree. As someone who has been through the transition three times, I know that it is rarely smooth and certainly not predictable. The security and ease of nourishing your child with breast milk or infant formula vanishes when solids enter the picture, particularly when babies develop teeth (and begin biting you during nursing) or become distracted by what's going on around them when you're giving them a bottle. Then there's the uncertainty of each meal: Will she eat? How much cereal should she eat? Will she like this or that new fruit or vegetable? And how long should I try to get her to accept food at any meal before giving up?

When you worry about your infant's opposition to solid foods, or think that your baby is not eating enough, you can end up stressed at mealtime. This is especially true when you're trying to simultaneously monitor other children and eat your own meal. Alleviate some of the tension by arming yourself with a few simple facts and tips about introducing solid foods into baby's diet.

Satisfy calorie needs. Until baby reaches six months, he requires about 650 calories a day; from six to twelve months, about 850 will suffice. Even if your infant begins solids at four months, chances are breast milk or infant formula will continue to supply the majority of his energy until at least six months. By the time he reaches twelve months, he should be taking in more than half of his calories as table food.

Keep it relaxed. Feeding a well-rested baby who is hungry but not ravenous is easier and more rewarding that trying to feed a cranky or tired one. Your child should be interested in eating, not irritated by it.

Sit her up. Your baby must be able to hold up her head to be ready to receive solids. Sit your baby upright in an infant seat or prop her in a highchair supported by towels.

Feed baby first. Whenever the baby ate before the rest of the family, I had more time to spend with her without worrying about what the other kids were eating during the meal. Of course, time (and baby's hunger level) does not always permit this type of one-on-one feeding. But I recommend it when you are starting solids with your baby and you have older children, because it relieves some of the pressure, reduces distractions, and keeps baby and you more relaxed. When you're not constantly jumping up from the table to get a family member a fork or a glass of milk, or to wipe up a spill (as Tom and I are), you have more time to talk with your baby about the food she's eating or about anything else you please, you can better assess her hunger level, and you can pay attention to the cues she's giving you about what and how much she wants to eat. As time goes on and your baby eats more consistently at meals, it will become easier to feed her with the rest of the family. Even when she eats before or after the family meal, always seat her at the table with you for the social interaction.

Make it nutritious. Begin your foray into solid foods with fortified rice cereal mixed with formula or breast milk. Mix about one teaspoon dry infant cereal with four or so teaspoons of breast milk or (premixed) infant formula for each feeding.

It's not written in stone that baby's first solid food must be rice cereal, but it's surely a sound idea. Although most types of baby cereals are fortified with iron and other important minerals and vitamins, rice cereal is gluten-free, making it a safer alternative. Gluten is the part of wheat that can cause allergies in some people.

Why not try pureed vegetables or fruit before cereal? Because they lack the iron baby needs for good health. By six months of age, an infant's body has gone through much of his iron stores, which is why he requires additional daily iron from foods.

Keep it varied. Once baby becomes accustomed to infant cereal, move on to pureed fruits and vegetables (see Infant Feeding Guide). Serving baby a variety of foods encourages a healthier diet from the get-go. Expand your child's eating horizons by encouraging her to try foods you don't normally eat because you dislike them.

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