As your baby begins solids, they are opened to a whole new world. It's an adventure of taste and texture -- from basic first cereals to complex puree blends. It's also significant because it's when your child's palate develops, forming a foundation for good eating. Introducing them to a wide variety of essential nutrients from the start helps build baby's body, immune system and mind.
When to start?
Some parents are eager to start baby on solids as soon as possible, whether the reason is the baby's size, baby's sleeping habits or just their own excitement. While the guidelines have changed over the years, it is currently recommended that solids be introduced at around six months. Since each baby is different, you should also watch your child for developmental signs:
Can baby sit up and lean forward a bit? (With support is fine.)
Can baby hold their head up and turn to show signs they have had enough?
Can baby close their mouth over a spoon?
Can baby pick up foods to put in their mouth?
Once your baby can do all of these things,
Watch for signs they are excited to try food. I remember my babies practically vibrating at the table when they were five months old, so excited to get in on the action!
Make sure baby can hold food in their mouth and swallow. Although this is a learned skill and may take a few tries, if your baby has a strong extrusion reflex (where the tongue pushes the food back out), you should wait to try again in a few days or weeks.
What to feed?
Baby's first foods should not just be tasty, but full of high-quality, healthy ingredients. The good news is that there are less rigid guidelines than in the past. Here are some foods to try:
Iron sources should take priority, like pureed meats (blended with higher proportions of fruits and veggies if baby won't accept them on their own)
Fortified infant cereal, legumes, or eggs
Fruits and veggies, grains and dairy, in no particular order
Other than the most highly allergenic foods (wheat, dairy, soy, egg, fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts), there is no need to wait three days before introducing each food. In fact, introducing a variety of foods early on may build your baby's tolerance to more allergenic foods and cultivate baby's palate.
To start, offer your baby a small amount of puree once or twice a day. If they want more, go ahead and feed them more. If they don't take to a spoon, you can offer a bit from your finger, a favourite toy, or just let your baby mush it around. It's okay if your baby is slow to accept solids. Continue to offer them, but remember that milk will still be their main source of nutrition until 12 months.
What about textures?
The newest guidelines in Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants state that "...all food textures -- including lumpy, pureed, and even finger foods -- are fine to offer a baby from six months." I like combining traditional purees with some finger foods, so your baby can get all the nutrition from easy-to-eat purees, while still experimenting and learning by feeding themselves some finger foods.
What about allergies?
First off, be aware of and understand your family medical history. It is common for allergies to run in families, so if Dad has an allergy -- be it to peanuts or even something that seems unrelated to food, like hay fever -- chances are that baby could have an allergy, too. Follow your doctor's instructions on introducing solids, which usually consists of introducing one ingredient at a time.
So can you feed your baby peanuts and nuts at six months? Eggs? Shellfish? Wheat? Yes, please do! While it's still wise to introduce these more allergenic foods a few days apart and watch your baby for any signs of allergy, try to introduce them early in your baby's starting-solids career, and continue to feed them regularly (at least three times per week) to encourage tolerance.
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