How to start the process of introducing solid food to your baby?
In this article I am going to talk about which foods to start with, the size of the food and the number of days to wait between new food introductions. This information applies regardless of whether you plan to puree the baby lead weaning or spoon feeding.
Pay attention to possible reactions:
First of all, let's talk about which foods to start with. At the beginning of the feeding process, we want to offer single-ingredient foods to see how the baby will do, and to keep track of possible reactions. The most common foods that parents start with are avocados, sweet potatoes, carrots or bananas. That's right, you don't have to start your baby with rice cereal.
It doesn't matter which single ingredient food item you start with, as long as you prepare it and introduce it in a way that is safe for your baby. Of course foods such as avocados and bananas will not need to be cooked, but hard vegetables and fruits such as apples will need to be softened. You may have heard that giving fruits before vegetables can make a child prefer sweets, but there is no research to support this.
More importantly, you are offering your baby a variety of foods from different food groups, including: vegetables, fruits, carbohydrates, proteins and allergenic foods. Babies who eat a wide variety of foods tend to experience different tastes, smells, and textures more, which increases the likelihood that they will be open to trying new foods as they get older.
About allergenic foods:
Further research shows that early introduction to common allergenic foods is likely to reduce a child's risk of developing an allergy to these foods. Common allergenic foods include milk, peanuts, eggs, fish, soy, tree nuts, wheat and shellfish. As adults we may have a tendency to eat the same food for breakfast, and we may have a small range of favorite dishes that we eat each week.
We can still get all the necessary nutrients from our diet. But when it comes to introducing your baby to solids, this approach is not recommended. We find that children who were not exposed to a wide variety of foods as infants have a limited number of foods they are prepared to consume, especially as babies. Usually before the age of 14 to 18 months, most babies are more open to trying new foods and eating more variety. After that most children go through a phase of being more specific about their food, and begin to limit their diet.
Now let's talk about portion sizes:
Most parents want to know how much food they should be giving to their baby when starting solid foods. Believe it or not, there really are no portion size guidelines. This is because all babies are unique and have their own individual journey in how slowly or quickly they take in solids. So you have to learn to pay attention to the baby's cues.
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I realize that most parents want to know portion sizes, so they can have a realistic expectation of how much their child will be taking in. So let me tell you what the process of introducing solids looks like realistically for most babies. If you are approaching spoon feeding purees, over the first several weeks your baby will probably spit out most of the puree, and will probably only be open to taking a few spoonfuls before turning away from the spoon or refusing to open the mouth.
Let the baby get acquainted with the food:
If you are adopting a baby-led weaning approach, and offering your baby soft strips of food, you can expect that most of the food will end up on the baby's face, hands, and bib. This is all normal and is part of the process that your baby needs to explore and become familiar with when it comes to consuming solids. As your baby goes through the process of learning other developmental skills, such as rolling over and sitting, becoming proficient at eating food is also a gradual learning experience.
The thing that really helps parents to put this in perspective is to know that initially the food is only a supplement to the mother's milk that the baby is already taking, not a replacement. Most babies around 6 months old are eating about 28 to 32 ounces of breastmilk per day, divided into 4 to 6 feedings.
Take the pressure off yourself and your baby, and don't expect your baby to take in a certain amount of solids during feedings. Remember that children should find out how to eat and how to ingest food safely before increasing the amount of food they eat. Your goal is to gradually switch your baby from an all liquid diet to a predominantly solid food diet by the time the baby is 1 year old.
Your baby has several months to make this transition. From my experience, most babies really start getting used to solids around 8 to 9 months. But even at that age, we expect the baby to be consuming only 6 to 12 teaspoons per meal. So be patient and let your baby lead the feeding process.
I also want you to be aware that each day of solids is going to look different. One day your baby will be showing interest in food and may be ready to take more bites, and on other days whether it is due to teething, or something else, your baby will not be interested in food. There's nothing wrong with your baby, it's all part of the journey. Your job is to feed, and it depends on your child how little or how much he is going to take.
Wait between introducing new foods:
Now let's talk about how many days you should wait between introducing new foods. Most likely you were told by your child's healthcare provider to wait anywhere from 2 to 5 days. However, there is absolutely no research to suggest that it is necessary to wait that long between introducing low-risk foods for allergies. The main reason for introducing a single ingredient food for the first time is to see if the baby has an allergic reaction.
If we introduced multiple foods at the same meal for the first time, in case the child had a reaction, it would be hard to figure out which food was the culprit. So while giving a new food to your baby, there is no point in giving only one new food that day. An allergic reaction to a food usually occurs within a few minutes to a few hours after eating that food. Fortunately it is rare for a child to have an allergic reaction to most foods that are not typical allergenic foods.
Give one new vegetable every week:
The concern of waiting 2 to 5 days between introducing new foods is that it significantly limits the number of flavors and textures that can be introduced. Waiting several days between food introductions leads to early exposure to common allergenic foods. So to make it possible to introduce your baby to a variety of foods, introduce one new vegetable a week.
Offer a new fruit one day, a new protein food another day, a new carbohydrate food another day, and then a new allergenic food for the last three days of that week to be more alert. And then repeat the same approach with new foods the next week. Exposure to a variety of foods is beneficial for your baby.
Children exposed to more flavors and textures are less likely to be picky eaters. And it's also incredible to know that you can actually reduce your child's risk of developing allergies by adding common allergenic foods to your child's diet.
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