Breast milk is the best food for your baby during the first year. Not only does breast milk contain an ideal balance of nutrients for your baby, but it also contains antibodies that can help protect your baby from certain illnesses. When a mother cannot or chooses not to breast feed, babies should receive infant formula. Breast milk or formula is the only food they will need until they are 4 to 6 months of age.
Introduce solids around 6 months of age
Babies should be introduced to solids around 6 months of age. Breastmilk or formula should continue to be the baby’s main source of nutrition for the first year. Solids should not replace breastmilk or formula.
Early introduction of solid foods prior to 4 months is associated with increased weight gain and fat stores in infancy and early childhood.
Watch for signs that baby is ready
When starting solids, infants should be able to sit up with help, show interest in eating, open their mouths when the spoon approaches, and swallow without choking.
Let your baby and your doctor be the ones to cue you when to start offering solids. They know more than your sister-in-law, grandmother, or best friend. Every baby is different. Do what’s best for your baby, not your neighbor’s.
Feed when your baby shows early hunger signs
Babies know exactly when they are hungry, how much to eat, and when to stop eating. They are very intuitive. We lose this intuition as we grow because we listen to other cues outside of our internal, natural signals to determine when to eat or stop eating.
Many parents misread their baby’s cues and assume the slightest sign of discomfort means that their baby is hungry. Hungry babies display lots of cues and their cues become louder and more intense the longer they’re ignored. They eat better when they are calm. Many parents wait until their babies are crying before they feed them. In reality, those babies have been hungry for a while, and they’ve been gently cueing the parent, but gone unrecognized. Hungry babies will squirm, open and close their mouths, suck on their hands, root around as if looking for a nipple. They will start to fuss and eventually cry the longer they are hungry. Feeding your baby early will provide assurance to the baby that their needs are being anticipated. They feel secure.
If a baby fusses without any sign of hunger cues, there could be something else bothering them. It’s important for parents to be sensitive – consider their last diaper change, the temperature of the room, or if the baby is overstimulated.
End the feeding when your baby is full
The feeding should end when the baby shows that they’re full. The feeding doesn’t end when the bottle or the bowl is empty. Many parents are conscious of wasting food, which is completely understandable. So underestimate what your baby is going to eat. Maybe that means you offer a 4 oz bottle instead of a 6 oz bottle. You can always offer more if they want.
When feeding baby foods, spoon a portion from the jar into a separate dish instead of feeding directly from the jar. This will eliminate the temptation to “clean the plate” and it also reduces the potential for bacterial growth inside the jar of leftovers.
Babies that are full will play with their food, stop opening their mouths, push away the food, or fall asleep.
Respect your baby’s cues for hunger and fullness.
Start with small portions in a variety of textures and flavors
- Begin with 1-2 tsp of food and offer a new food every 3-5 days.
- Offer babies a variety of flavors. Advance their textures according to their tolerance. Start with pureed, then mashed, ground, and chopped
- If your baby rejects a food, it doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t like it. Keep offering it. It can take up 10-15 exposures over a period of months to a food before a baby accepts it, and many parents give up after 5 or less.
Watch for signs of allergies
- If a baby has a reaction to a certain food, then the parents know exactly what food caused it and to eliminate that food from the baby’s diet temporarily
- Signs of a reaction include: swelling, rash or itchy skin, difficulty breathing, and diarrhea or stomach pains.
Avoid foods that can cause harm
- Avoid foods that could cause choking:
- Hot dogs
- Raw vegetables
- Whole grapes
- Hard candy
- Peanut butter
Avoid foods that can make baby sick
- Honey or foods made with honey
- Whole eggs or egg whites
- Home-prepared spinach, beets, green beans, squash and carrots before 6 months of age (high in nitrates – may cause anemia)
Introducing cups with solid food
Babies can start to learn how to drink from a cup around 6 months. Introduce an empty cup with no lid while the baby is in the high chair. Offer small sips of water, breastmilk, or formula while holding the cup to your baby’s lips. Do not offer punch, tea, or soda.
Offering the cup early helps babies build skills and makes bottle weaning easier.
Give babies lots of practice with the cup; you’ll be amazed how they master it.
Wean from the bottle at 12 months
Bottles should be weaned between 12-15 months. A baby who drinks from the bottle for too long can run the risk of tooth decay.
Gradually replace bottles with cups. Often the bedtime bottle is the last one to go. Create a new bedtime routine without the bottle. Sometimes only offering water in the bottle can help.
Be wary of sippy cups
Sippy cups can cause the same tooth decay as bottles. Parents who replace sippy cups for bottles aren’t reducing their child’s risk of tooth decay. Open cups are better alternatives. If you must use sippy cups for traveling or to avoid spills, put water in them instead of juice.