So your little love is ready to start eating solid foods? Amazing how fast she’s grown! Soon, you’ll have family members and well-intentioned friends advising you about every little morsel.

According to Mark Krakauer, M.D., a pediatrician with St. Thomas Medical Group, “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends starting solids between ages 4 and 6 months, no earlier,” he says. “Breast milk and/or infant formula are necessary and sufficient for all of the nutritional needs of the baby before this time and starting solids before 4 months may be harmful,” Krakauer adds.

Before your child reaches her first birthday, transition to solids in baby steps, even when others urge you to try this or that earlier. Remember, giving cereal to infants 4 months old or younger in order to get them to sleep through the night is a big no-no. “It [cereal] may result in the child getting an inadequate nutrient intake,” warns Krakauer. “Infant kidneys are immature at this point, and solids (or drinks other than breast milk or formula) can expose a child to a dangerous amount of salt that can actually lead to seizures or worse. Another reason to delay solids until at least 4 months is that before then most infants lack the oral motor skills needed to safely do it,” he adds. Babies younger than 4 - 6 months don’t have the necessary enzymes to digest solid foods and evidence shows that starting solid foods at earlier ages increases Baby’s risk of food allergies.

Getting Started

Once your baby is able to sit up on his own, it’s time to begin. The goal is to expose him to a wide variety of foods from all food groups (in fact, you can do this all through your child’s growing-up years). The more flavors and textures she tries early on, the more likely she’ll be a good eater. As a rule of thumb, Baby’s first food is usually single grain cereal (like rice cereal), which can be mixed easily with formula or breast milk and spoon-fed. As a good source of iron that growing babies need, it’s best to feed the cereal twice a day. At about 9 months, babies will want about half a cup of cereal.

 

Watching for Allergies

After a successful launch with cereal, it’s time for vegetables — pediatricians suggest veggies over fruit since the sweetness of fruit might make your baby partial to bananas and cause her to turn up her nose at peas. Since yellow and orange vegetables are sweeter than green ones, babies usually love carrots, yams and butternut squash. But, again, take it slowly. Pediatricians urge parents to remember that if more than one food is started at the same time — and Baby has an allergic reaction — there’s no way of knowing which food was the culprit.

Waiting three to five days between starting new foods helps you monitor for allergy symptoms, which may include  rash, hives, wheezing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, excessive gas, diarrhea or blood in stools. Call your pediatrician if you notice any of these symptoms (they can take minutes or even days to appear), and go to the ER if the reaction seems serious. The good news is a food reaction in the first year of life doesn’t always mean a lifelong allergy, say doctors.

If a food provokes a reaction, shelve it for one to three months before bringing it out again. If your baby still doesn’t tolerate it, keep it off the menu entirely until she’s 1. By then, she may outgrow the intolerance.

First attempts at feeding may end up with veggies sliding down your baby’s chin as she learns to coordinate her swallow ability with a mouth full of food. Some babies may reject certain flavors, but keep trying. Repeated exposure, up to 12 times, can convert even the most stubborn babe. Once you’ve established a first favorite food, add a new food in to the mix. Start with strained or pureed vegetables and then move on to mashed. Servings should gradually increase from a few teaspoons to about two tablespoons, twice a day.

After your child has sampled a variety of vegetables, bring on the fruit. Start small and work up to a couple of tablespoons, twice daily. Avoid sweetened treats like cobblers and puddings — the extra fat and sugar add empty calories and can sour your baby on real fruit.

“We started with bananas and apples,” says local mom Simona Radu Bardaus. “Now, at 9 months, he loves every fruit including grapefruit, kiwi, raspberries, blueberries and papaya. He’s a fruit fanatic like his mommy.”

With all this eating going on, don’t forget to continue feeding Baby milk, although it is safe to reduce the amount she gets.

 

Feeding Through the First Year

Rice Cereal

It’s easy to digest and rarely triggers an allergic reaction. Make sure it’s iron fortified. Prepare it thin at first – one teaspoon of cereal to four or five teaspoons of breast milk, formula or water. Scoop a little bit onto a baby spoon and put it between your baby’s lips. If the cereal comes sliding back out, don’t worry. Your baby needs to figure out how to swallow something that isn’t liquid. It may take several tries before he gets the hang of it. If he refuses to open his mouth or begins to cry, try again the next day. If he still balks, wait a week before trying again.

By 7 or 8 months:

Add pureed meat and poultry.

Between 9 and 12 months:

Phase in soft foods, such as macaroni and cheese, pasta with tomato sauce and casseroles. You can also begin serving finger foods such as rice cake pieces, O-shaped cereals, baby crackers and bite-sized cooked frozen vegetables.

By her First Birthday ...

A typical baby may eat (in one day):

• 4 - 8 tablespoons of fruit and veggies

• 4 servings of breads and cereals (a serving is one quarter of a slice of bread or 2 tablespoons of rice, potatoes or pasta)

• 2 servings of meat or poultry (1 tablespoon each)

 

More Pointers

Some experts say vegetables (either mashed, strained or pureed) should be a baby’s first food instead of cereal or fruit because exposing kids to healthy foods from the start can lay the foundation for healthy eating habits throughout life. Avoid choking hazards until your baby has teeth, but still be careful when serving popcorn, raw vegetables, candy, whole grapes or cherries, chunky peanut butter (use smooth instead), hot dogs, chicken nuggets and the like.

 

Read On About Babies & Eating:

Eating Out With Baby: Be Ready! 

 

5 Tips for Good Eating in Babyhood