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You make so many important decisions when you’re the parent of a very young baby. When to start solid foods is one of them, but you don’t need to obsess over the decision. The only real risk is feeding your baby any food that’s not breast milk or formula too soon since that can encourage future food allergies and obesity. If you wait until your child is at least four months old you should be in the clear. As long as you don’t insist on solid food younger than that, you’ve got plenty of room for trial and error. The healthiest timeline for stage one baby food depends on these cues and best practices.
Track your baby’s weight
Just because your infant weighed more than the other babies at birth doesn’t mean you’ll need to get out the baby cereal any earlier. But it is a good idea to follow your child’s weight gain since once she’s doubled her birthweight, introducing solid food could be a good idea. This doesn’t necessarily apply to low-birth-weight babies, those who were born weighing 5.5 pounds or less, or preemies, though. They might double their size long before their bodies are developed enough to profit from eating baby food.
Does your child look ready for baby food?
A baby should be able to sit up in an infant seat or high chair and hold his head up before you make the first attempt at stage 1 baby food. Other signs of readiness are when the baby watches your every move when you’re eating, including that super cute opening of his mouth like he’s going to take a bite. All of these signs that baby is ready to start solid food typically happen between 4 and 6 months of age. Keep in mind, though, that solid food is only one portion of the diet for young babies. World health experts and the AAP recommend that mothers continue to breastfeed along with solid food until a child is 12 months old, and then longer if the mother and the baby both desire it.
Roll out the rice cereal
Rice cereal makes the ideal first baby food. Babies can digest it easily and it rarely causes allergic reactions. Plus, it replaces the iron store that babies are born with and start losing right about age six months. If your child is formula fed and drinking an iron-fortified mixture, having iron in the first food isn’t nearly as important. Another advantage of rice cereal is that you can purchase it at most groceries, drug stores and even get organic versions online or at some well-stocked grocery stores. Some people do prefer to start their child on other foods that are rich in iron, from meat to tofu to lentils. If you are considering that option, just make sure to discuss it with your pediatrician ahead of time.
At first, attempt to introduce rice cereal in place of breastfeeding or formula for one or two of your child’s daily feedings. It’s important to choose a time when you’re relaxed and the baby’s not cranky, either. Remember, your child will pick up on your emotional cues, so try to stay calm and act like this is no big deal (which, in fact, it isn’t.) Place about two teaspoons of the rice cereal in a small, clean bowl and moisten it with enough breast milk or formula to achieve the consistency of pancake batter. Then dip one of those cute little silicone-tipped spoons into the mix and see if you can (gently) get it into the baby’s mouth. Be sure to have lots of napkins, bibs and cleaning cloths at the ready!
Skip the cereal in a bottle
Even if your most experienced parenting relative raves about the advantages of feeding baby cereal from a bottle, resist. Babies can choke on cereal in a bottle, or the ease of consuming it may make them eat too much, which can lead to obesity. Plus, the whole point of the baby starting solid food is for your kiddo to eventually transition to eating like a healthy adult. Doing the same old thing with a different liquid doesn’t provide the developmental encouragement you’re after.
Focus on your child
This is not the time to indulge in comparison with the rest of babies from your natural childbirth class or your child’s cousin or stepbrother. Each child is ready to start solid food on a personal schedule, depending on development and even personality. If the baby closes his mouth after one “bite” or shakes his head no on the first attempt, that’s cool. Same if she dribbles the food onto her chin. That just means she still has what’s called a “tongue thrust reflex” and isn’t yet able to get the food to the back of her mouth in order to swallow. If you meet with any of these forms of resistance, simply wait and try again in a week or so.
The last thing you want to do is obsess that your child isn’t doing the same thing as his peers or insist on trying the solid food night after night until the whole family starts fretting at the sight of a cereal spoon. Remember, if you set the right tone on beginning solid food, you’ve taken the first towards avoiding food power struggles as your child grows. And that will be the beginning of a healthy and enjoyable relationship with food.