If you ask 100 doctors, you will get 100 different specific plans for starting solids. Some will be subtly different and some drastically, but one thing is clear to me: there are very few hard and fast rules.
I will therefore not be getting that specific about feeding solid foods. As far as I'm concerned, you can introduce the foods in whatever order you like and whatever quantity your baby tolerates. Your best guide is your baby.
My first bit of advice is to get this book: “Child of Mine” by Ellen Satter
It's great. I've brought it up before and will probably do so again. It's got a chapter on breastfeeding but you can just skim or skip that (there are better breastfeeding resources). What it does have is the psychology of feeding – how to teach your child to eat.
After all, that's what we're doing with solid foods. I assure you that your 6-month-old is getting almost no nutrition out of a half a jar of mushed green beans. Heck, even at 12 months a baby should still be receiving most of their nutrition from formula or breast milk (more on that when I talk about weaning).
The point of introducing food is to teach your baby to eat. Part of that is teaching them to chew, swallow, put food in their mouth, use a spoon, etc., but what's more important is teaching them to enjoy a wide variety of foods and to eat well.
In a nutshell, her advice is this: You decide what, when, and where your child eats. Your child decides whether and how much. That's it. You don't force, coerce, do a flying airplane, withhold food, or nag them about their veggies. You choose healthy foods at predictable times and in predictable locations and let them do the rest. If your child isn't interested in what you put before them, that's fine – there will be another meal in X hours. Besides, sometimes you have to introduce a food many times before a child gets used to it.
Ellen Satter explains specifically how and why this works in her book and also goes into more detail than I can possibly do here. I can't recommend it enough. My son is 2, we've been doing this method since I read the book a little over a year ago, and he's a great eater from all five food groups – plus the chocolate group. :) (Hey, you got to have a little fun sometimes. Ellen Satter talks about how to enjoy your food, too.)
So, now that my book review is over, on to a few topics:
SHOULD I START SOLIDS?
People start solids for a lot of reasons, many of them mistaken ones. Make sure you're not thinking of starting for the wrong reasons. Here are a few wrong reasons:
1.To help baby sleep. 2.Baby is too small. 3.Baby is too big. 4.Breastmilk doesn't have enough iron. (Note: breast milk has less iron than formula, but it is more easily absorbed and so breast fed babies tend to be anemic less often.) 5.Baby will have problems with solids if you don't start by X months. 6.Baby's weight has reached some magic number.
Well, depending upon who you ask, anywhere between birth and about a year old. My husband's grandmother still thinks it was a great idea to put cereal in the bottle at one day old so she could get some sleep.
Actual doctors will usually give you one of three answers: 4 months, 6 months, or between 4 and 6 months.
Which is correct?
Maybe none. Some babies are honestly not ready for solids until past 6 months. I have a niece who was unfortunate enough to contract RSV as a newborn and it messed up her digestion big time – if her mom tried to give her food she projectile-v omitted everywhere. She was 8 months before she was ready.
Tip: If your baby is vomiting or spitting up whatever you give them, they probably aren't ready for solids. This may sound obvious, but I know someone whose doctor was in the die-hard 4 months category and they listened to their doctor over their daughter's obvious negative reactions. Whatever else you do, WATCH YOUR BABY!
The AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS recommends that babies be exclusively breast fed, that is to say with no solid foods, for 6 months. The WHO and many breastfeeding references will agree with this. Kelly Mom, the site I've referenced most frequently, doesn't even suggest looking for the signs of readiness before 6 months of age.
One thing to keep in mind is that formula fed babies are often given an earlier recommendation than breastfed babies. So this can lead to some confusion.
And now, I'm going to tell you my story and how I've made sense of all the conflicting information in my own head.
My son had his first solid food at a day shy of 4 months old. This was not my choosing. I had no plans to start at four months and had no baby food of any kind in the house. One night at dinner, however; as my husband balanced baby and plate on his lap (DS was hard to put down at that age), our son grabbed a handful of white rice and shoved it in his mouth. He was reaching for another before my husband stopped him.
At that point, I had to make some decisions. I knew all the research. My own doctor was adamantly in the six-month camp. Yet my son was not just showing interest in food, but feeding it to himself. At least half the articles out there suggested he was ready anyway, so what did I do?
I waffled for a while, and then I started introducing very token amounts of food once a day. I decided that the most important thing to watch when it comes to starting solids is my baby.
A WORD OF CAUTION:
Having said all that, I must caution that I think it is much more common for a parent to be tempted into starting food too early rather than too late. I have seen a number of babies being fed food past pursed lips, or even in a bottle. Wait until your child is receptive and even starting to self-feed. While I personally decided against Kelly Mom's hardcore 6-month philosophy, I do believe that the vast majority of babies aren't ready until 6 months. I have no plans to start my second baby at any particular age and will probably wait until 6 months unless they, too, insist the way my son did.
WHICH FOODS COME FIRST?
Yeah. Whatever you like. Ask 100 doctors...or 100 web sites...I'll find one that says one thing, someone else will find one that says something else. I'm not even going to try to dictate this one. It *really* doesn't matter. Like I said, this is for practice, anyway.
HOW LONG SHOULD I WAIT TO OFFER NEW FOODS?
Talk to your doctor. If you have a history of allergies or are very concerned, you may need to be on a different plan. For parents not overly worried about allergies, every 3 days is fine. You want to put about 3 days in between offering a new food so that if your child has an allergic reaction, you know what the likely culprit is.
WHICH FOODS SHOULD I AVOID UNTIL X MONTHS OLD?
Once again, you'll get different opinions on this, but Baby Center seems to have a very measured and well-thought out list, including warnings for some foods only when there is added cause for concern or a history of allergies.
At first, it won't. Your baby will be playing with foods and receiving token foods. Eventually, they will cut back, but the beauty is that if you nurse on demand then you don't have to decide when and how much -- your baby will!
Until your baby is a year old, you should nurse before offering solids since breast milk is more important for now. It's good to put solid feeding on a schedule, but nursing is best left on demand for now.
That's about all I can say on this one. Try not to get too stressed out about it. Just watch your baby.
As usual, feel free to chime in if you have different opinions (there certainly is a lot of room for that on this topic!) or references you'd like to share. I didn't get into homemade baby food because I didn't make it, but a lot of breast feeders are also really into that so if someone has a reference, post it for the class!
I would like to give a sweet mama from babyfit a special thank you for giving me permission to use her info. Thank you Christine Amsden!! Also, I want to invite you all to look at her new website! www.christineamsden.com
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