Although you might choose to nurse past six months, at this point your growing baby will need more calories and iron than breast milk or formulas alone can supply. Generally, pediatricians recommend beginning solid foods between four and six months. Here are some strategies for getting started:
Don't be overzealous about buying “low-fat” foods for your infant. Although it's a good practice for older children, the first two years of life require extra calories and fat for proper growth and development. Stick with the whole-fat dairy until your child turns two years old or your pediatrician says otherwise.
Food for Thought
It's a good idea to start with vegetables before fruit. After introducing the sweetness of fruit, some infants are not so willing to eat the vegetables.
- A general rule of thumb is to introduce only one new food at a time (over three to five days) to rule out food allergies and intolerances.
If your baby tolerates a food, and you don't notice any adverse reactions (skin rashes, wheezing, diarrhea, stomachaches), you can graduate on to the next food item.
- Rice cereal is usually recommended for the first food introduction because it is the least allergenic. Follow the directions on the box (usually 3–5 tablespoons of dry cereal is mixed with breast milk, formula, or water). Although it might seem bland to you, don't add anything else (sugar, salt, honey). Your baby will find it perfectly fine, and it's really the texture that you want him or her to get used to.
- After cereal has passed the test, try some pureed fruit and pureed veggies. (I recommend that you start with the veggies.) Watch how your baby starts to master the art of pushing the food back into the mouth with the tongue; what a genius!
- By age 6 to 10 months, your baby's digestive system is maturing and it's time to introduce all sorts of mashed concoctions. Try strained meats, chicken, turkey, egg yolks (continue to avoid egg whites), and mashed lentils and beans.
- By 12 months, you can go ahead and substitute regular cow's milk for formula, with your pediatrician's okay. Encourage at least two to three full cups of milk per day, but not so much that your child will be too full for the solid foods that supply the necessary calories and iron. You can also go ahead and add cheese and plain yogurts.
- Go at your own pace, and listen to what your pediatrician has to say about the growth and development of your little one—clearly the best indication of your baby's nutritional status.
As your baby moves up in age and food variety, keep a watchful eye on items known to cause allergies such as wheat, egg white, nut butters, and cow's milk. In fact, avoid giving egg whites and regular dairy until after the first year. Completely hold off on peanuts and peanut butter for the first two years … and three years if there's a family history.