Savvy Smarts: Introducing Solid Foods to Your Baby

By Jacqueline Shaprow ~

It is fun for babies to explore different textures, colors, and tastes as they embark upon the journey of eating solid foods.  Most babies are ready for solid foods at 4 to 6 months of age.  However, it is important to remember to consult your pediatrician before beginning solid foods, because your doctor may have very specific instructions for you.  Pediatricians will discuss detailed feeding routines with parents, and they will ensure that your baby is growing according to schedule.  According to The American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations, mothers should breastfeed their babies exclusively for at least four months and preferably for six, and mothers should continue breastfeeding even after solid foods are introduced until a baby is 12 months old.  Remember that solid foods are not meant as a substitute for the nutrition provided by a mother’s breast milk.  Therefore, it is important to make sure that your baby is getting enough breast milk or formula even after she begins eating solid foods.  A good way to ensure your baby gets enough breast milk is to nurse her before feeding her solids.  If a baby is producing one to two bowel movements per day and makes a good amount of wet diapers, then you are probably on the right track in terms of your feedings.

Every baby is different.  Some babies will eat two jars of baby food in a day, and others will only eat a few spoonfuls of solid food per day when solid foods are initially introduced.  Since every baby has different needs, it is important to be sensitive to your baby’s cues during feedings to ensure that they are receiving the right amount of solid food for their own individual needs.  Feed as slowly or as quickly as your baby wants to eat.  If your baby turns her head away as you offer more food, then you may want to slow down the feeding.  Simply wait for your baby to show readiness to eat again before giving her another spoonful of food. If your baby continuously turns her head away each time you offer more food, then you may want to end the feeding period because your baby is probably full.  Pay close attention to your baby’s cues during feedings, and look out for the below signs to tell if your baby is full or still wants more.

Cues that your baby is done eating:

  • Pursing of lips, or closing the mouth when the spoon approaches
  • Turning the head away as the spoon approaches
  • Looking down
  • Spitting out food which they have been fed
  • Unexplained crying or whimpering

Cues that your baby is still hungry for more:

  • Opening the mouth as the spoon approaches
  • Reaching for the spoon and attempting to put it in their mouth
  • Reaching toward the bowl or jar containing food

When you enter Whole Foods Market, Ralphs, or any grocery store, you will see the following baby food options: peas, sweet potatoes, squash, apples, bananas, carrots, green beans, pears, oatmeal, and rice cereal, among others.  There are organic and non-organic baby food options in most grocery stores. Some mothers choose to buy jars of baby food in stores, while others opt to make their own baby food with a baby food maker, an instrument that steam-cooks and purees fruits, vegetables, and meat.  Some moms love preparing their own baby food, while others may find it overwhelming and stressful. Every mother is different and every baby is different, so do what works best for you!

While shopping for baby food, it is important to be aware that some vegetables may contain nitrates.  Specific vegetables to watch out for are the following:

  • Carrots
  • green beans
  • spinach
  • squash
  • beets

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents refrain from feeding their babies the above vegetables, which may contain nitrates until a baby is three months old.  The AAP recommends starting babies on solid foods at four to six months, but if parents do choose to give their baby vegetables before three months of age, then they should be careful to avoid carrots, green beans, spinach, squash and beets.

It is important for parents to be aware of food allergies when introducing solid foods to babies. The below foods are responsible for 90 percent of food allergies in young children:

  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Dairy products
  • Tree nuts
  • Wheat
  • Peanuts
  • Egg Whites
  • Honey (may cause Botulism in infants, so it should not be fed to infants who are less than one year old)

A lot to think about, right? After considering which vegetables may contain nitrates, which solid foods to introduce first, whether your baby is producing a good amount of bowel movements, whether to buy organic or non-organic baby food, whether to buy jars of baby food or to puree your own baby food at home, and which foods are responsible for most allergies – it is also important to keep one last thing in mind – safe food handling practices to help protect your baby.  Below are easy ways to prevent food poisoning.

  • Store baby food that has been opened in the refrigerator for no more than three days.  Most baby food jars will have this particular instruction printed on the food label to remind you.
  • Throw baby food jars away if you are not positive how long they have been sitting in the refrigerator after they’ve been opened.  It’s much better safe than sorry!
  • Clean baby bowls and utensils carefully before each use.
  • If you buy baby food jars, then before each feeding put a small amount of the food from the jar into a bowl.  Do not give your baby food directly from the jar because the spoon may transfer bacteria from your baby’s mouth into the jar.  The bacteria left in the jar may multiply. Unless you are going to feed your baby the entire jar in one sitting, refrain from feeding directly from the jar for this reason.

With all of the above information in mind, it is now time to begin exploring new foods with your baby – and remember to have fun!  Everything is new and exciting for your baby.  As your baby tastes each new food, she will have fun making a mess on her high chair and splattering food on the floor. Your baby will marvel at the color of the food that splatters everywhere while she eats.  Your baby will play with the food textures that collect between her fingers and she will squeal with delight as she tries a new food she likes.  Capture every moment and enjoy.

Jacqueline Shaprow is a writer, an attorney, and a graduate of Yale. Her psychological research was published in the Journal of Health Psychology and distributed internationally.  Shaprow publishes motherhood articles and teaches a Decision Making course to pregnant women and new mothers.  This course assists mothers with making positive life decisions, and it evaluates the psychological processes underlying the decisions we make. She is the President and Founder of the THE BABY SHOWER FOUNDATION, an organization that brings joy to homeless and low-income pregnant women by organizing special Baby Shower events for these women and providing them with high quality baby care products to assist them in caring for their newborn babies.

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