Breastfeeding has been shown to improve infant, child and maternal health outcomes and help control healthcare costs, but how long should breast-feeding last and when should parents introduce solid foods?
Multiple health-focused organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the World Health Organization, recommend exclusive breastfeeding, meaning the infant receives only breast milk, during the first six months of life for optimal nutrition and health benefits.
Once solid foods are introduced, health professionals recommend continuing breastfeeding through 12 months of age and, after that, as desired by mother and baby. Introducing your baby to solid foods is an exciting milestone. When you start introducing children to the world of solid foods, you are helping them shape their relationship with food and establish a healthy eating style. The timing for introducing solid foods will depend on the infant, but it is not recommended before the age of four months.
Not sure how to get your baby started on solid foods? Consider these helpful tips.
Is Your Baby Ready to Transition?
Each child’s readiness for solid food depends on their own rate of development. Signs a baby may be ready to start solid foods include sitting up with minimal support, demonstrating good head control or reaching for food off other family members' plates. Check with your pediatrician before starting solid foods.
Getting Started With Solids
Solid foods may be introduced in any order. However, puréed meats, poultry, beans and iron-fortified cereals are recommended as first foods, especially if your baby has been primarily breastfed, since they provide key nutrients. Only one new single-ingredient food should be introduced at a time.
Softer textures are very important when first introducing foods. Infants usually start with pureed or mashed foods around six months. As infants develop chewing and motor skills, they are able to handle items like soft pieces of fruit and finger foods. As the child ages, a variety of healthful foods is encouraged.
Weaning From Breastfeeding
When deciding if you should wean your baby to a bottle or a cup, consider their developmental readiness. Between 7 and 8 months, most infants will drink small amounts of liquid from a cup or a glass when someone else holds it. Older babies and toddlers often have the coordination to drink fluids from a cup by themselves.
If your baby is under 12 months of age and you are not continuing to breast-feed, wean from breast milk to iron-fortified infant formula. If your baby is 12 months or older, whole cow’s milk is appropriate.
Food Safety Do’s and Don’ts
Food safety concerns for infants and toddlers include food allergies, choking and risks for foodborne illness. Keep the following safety tips in mind:
Do talk with your pediatrician about the risk of food allergies. Introducing one new food at a time, every several days, allows time to monitor for allergic reactions. Current evidence does not indicate needing to wait beyond 4 to 6 months before introducing potential allergy-causing foods such as eggs, dairy, soy, peanuts and fish. In fact, introducing peanut-containing foods as early as 4 to 6 months of age may help prevent a peanut allergy. Parents with concerns about food allergies should discuss how to include these foods with their pediatrician.
Don’t feed your baby solid foods from a bottle. It can be a choking hazard and despite a popular misconception, putting cereal in a baby's bottle won't help with sleeping through the night. Other foods that are considered to be choking hazards are listed below.
Do supervise your child while eating. Infants should be able to sit upright and face forward when you first introduce solid foods. This makes swallowing easier and choking less likely.
Don’t feed directly from the jar of food but instead spoon some food into a separate dish first. Feeding directly from the jar may introduce bacteria from your baby's mouth to the spoon and back into the food, creating a food safety issue.
Don’t feed honey to children under 12 months of age due to the risk of foodborne illness.
Examples of appropriate solid foods listed by age:
- Well-cooked and pureed meat, poultry or beans
- Ground, cooked, single-grain cereal or infant cereal with breast milk or formula
- Cooked and pureed vegetables
- Mashed banana or avocado
- Well-cooked, minced or finely chopped meat, poultry or beans
- A variety of cooked vegetables cut into small, ½ inch pieces, such as squash and green beans
- Sliced and quartered bananas or small pieces of other soft fruits
- Soft, shredded meat, poultry or fish
- Small pieces of cooked vegetables
- Small pieces of soft, easy to chew fruits
- Mixed food dishes the family is eating in appropriately sized pieces
Not recommended for those under 4 years of age due to the risk of choking:
- Popcorn and whole kernel corn
- Nuts and seeds
- Large chunks of meat, poultry and cheese
- Candy, gum drops and jelly beans
- Hard, raw fruits or vegetables such as apples, celery and carrots
- Whole grapes and cherry tomatoes, unless cut into quarters
- Hot dogs, unless cut into strips and age appropriate, bite-size pieces
- Sticky foods, such as peanut butter, which can get stuck in the back of the mouth – peanut butter is okay if spread thinly on bread
For toddlers and preschoolers, chop grapes, meat, poultry, hot dogs and raw vegetables and fruits into small pieces (about ½ inch or smaller).
Nurturing Healthy Relationships with Food
Establishing a positive feeding relationship during infancy can have lifetime benefits. Keep in mind that children are responsible for how much and whether they eat so always wait for your baby to pay attention to each spoonful before you feed it. Don't be afraid to let your baby touch the food in the dish and on the spoon. You wouldn't want to eat something if you didn't know anything about it, would you? In addition, know the cues that your baby is done eating. A common cue babies are full is head turning.
Whatever happens, don't get discouraged and enjoy the experience. With a little patience and creativity, you can make your baby's first solid food eating experience fun for everyone involved!