Parents have been feeding me lots of questions as to the best time for their infant to begin eating solid foods. Let me see if I can provide some easy-to-digest information on this topic.
First you need to realize that it is not until late in your child’s first year of life that the digestive system has matured to maximally absorb nutrients and calories. Solids can fill a baby up, but are low in calories and nutrients, so they do not help your baby grow during that first year.
So what are solids for in infancy? They are really only there in infancy to help your baby develop a fondness for tastes and textures. A child’s main ongoing source of nutritional growth in that first year is through breast milk or, if need be, the formula they are drinking.
When is the best time to begin solid foods for taste and texture? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting solids sometime between 4 to 6 months of age; closer to 6 months if exclusively breastfeeding, which is what I recommend.
Before introducing solids to a baby’s diet, it is important for your baby to demonstrate good head and neck control. They should also be close to sitting on their own, if not already doing so. Being able to sit signifies the loss of primitive sucking reflexes that make it difficult for your baby to swallow anything but a liquid without choking.
As to what foods to start with, most nutritionists recommend starting with a single-grain cereal like iron-fortified rice cereal, which can be easily digested at 4 to 6 months. Then you can move up to pureed vegetables and subsequently fruits, saving the sweeter tastes for last so your baby adjusts to the non-sweet tastes of cereals and vegetables first.
Don’t introduce more than one new food to your baby every few days. This should ensure that your baby doesn’t develop a food allergy to a particular new food or ingredient you are giving them. Also, if you add only one food at a time, you will know what the culprit is if your child has an allergic reaction. If your baby doesn’t like a food, wait a week or two and try again – the second or even third time is often the charm.
Hopefully tips like this will go down easily when it comes to knowing more about when and how to introduce solids.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.