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Starting Solids

When and How to Give Your Baby Her First Foods

The ideal time to start your infant on solid foods is between four and six months of age. Until this point, most babies haven't lost the tongue-thrust reflex—which causes them to push anything foreign out of their mouths. Also, your baby needs to be able to hold up his head to spoon-feed. Since all babies are individuals, talk to your pediatrician about when to start. You can also watch for these signs of readiness:

  • Your baby literally eyes what you're eating, as if he'd love a bite.
  • He cries for more after feedings, even after drinking a total of 32 ounces of formula a day.
  • If you're nursing, your baby who was sleeping for a long stretch at night has suddenly started waking up again, crying to be fed.

When you decide to try giving your child solids, it's important to know that breast milk or formula should still make up the majority of his diet until he's 1 year old. He still needs the steady nutrition these foods offer, not to mention the comfort of your arms. But by beginning to give your child solids, you will be introducing him to the world of "real" food and before you know it, he'll be enjoying mushy versions of your dinner right along with you. So how to start? Try these 5 smart steps.

Step 1: Rice (cereal) is nice. Most people start with rice formula, because it can be thinned to almost liquid consistency with a taste your child already know and loves—formula or breastmilk. This can make the experience a little less strange for your baby. Rice cereal is also mild-tasting and full of healthy iron.

Step 2: Smart seating. Since it's unlikely your child will be sitting up yet (that happens closer to 7 months), he won't be ready for a highchair. His car seat is a fine place for feedings until then. You can also hold him on your lap and have your spouse do the honors.

Step 3: Try, try again. Don't expect much, if any, food to actually make it down your little guy's throat. More likely, when you introduce the baby spoon into his little mouth, he will look at it quizzically and let the rice cereal dribble from his lips and all over his bib. This is normal. Try a couple more bites later on in the day or the next day. If he just won't slurp up a single bit of the stuff or if he gets upset, put the bibs and spoons away and try again in a week or so.

Step 4: Wait and watch. If your baby gobbled up the rice cereal, wait about four days before you introduce another type of pureed baby food. Any kind of food you offer now must be made from a single ingredient—such as, mashed bananas or sweet potatoes—because if your little one has an allergic reaction, you will be able to know exactly what food caused it. Your baby is likelier to have food allergies if you or your spouse have any kind of allergies. Watch out for a red rash or hives, sometimes around the mouth; diarrhea or vomiting within a few hours of eating; bloody stools or in the worst case, wheezing or difficulty breathing. Though such severe reactions to these first foods are very rare, call 911 at any sign of breathing trouble as this could indicate a serious problem.

Step 5: When buying baby food in the store, look for jars labeled "stage 1" or "step 1." These foods should all be single-ingredient with no lumps. You'll quickly discover which foods are your baby's favorites, but continue to give him a variety of fruits, vegetables and meats to set him up for a lifetime of healthy eating. After introducing each food, again, wait 4 days to be sure no allergy to it exists.

Just as with formula, the government holds all baby food manufacturers to high and stringent standards when it comes to the nutrition and safety of their products. When your pediatrician gives you the okay to move on to "stage 2" foods—which are more flavorful purees that combine fruits and veggies, such as pears and squash—check out store brand baby foods. They offer puree blends at a fraction of the cost of the national brands. Now that's delicious!

This article was written by the publishers of Parents and American Baby magazines.

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