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Parents look forward to spoon-feeding with astronomic levels of anticipation. There’s no shortage of unsolicited (and usually contradictory) advice out there but very little in the way of hard and fast rules. Here’s how to begin.
Don’t start too soon: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for the first six months, but some experts believe that a baby’s system is ready for solids at the age of about 4 months. “Before that, there’s an increased risk of allergy and eczema,” pediatric gastroenterologist Bryan Vartabedian, M.D., says. “But at 4 to 6 months, babies are developmentally ready to eat.” In other words, the extrusor reflex, which causes babies to push food out of their mouths with their tongues, begins to fade. Starting solids at 6 months is preferable, but if your 4- or 5-month-old shows a keen interest in food or still seems hungry after a feeding, ask your doctor about starting them sooner.
Begin slowly: Feeding your baby solids once or twice a day is plenty in the beginning; increase to three feedings by about 8 months of age. To identify the source of any allergic reaction, introduce one food at a time and wait three to five days before giving a new one. Don’t get hung up on finding the perfect sequence—you aren’t cracking the genetic code. Rice cereal is a good first choice, but you also can start with a cooked or mashed fruit or vegetable. (If in doubt, ask your pediatrician.)
Be patient: You will spend eons coaxing food into your baby’s mouth only to have it spit back out. Yes, feeding a baby is a dirty and often frustrating job, but remember that for the first five or six months that she’s eating solids, your baby is still getting most of the nutrition she needs from breast milk or formula. So don’t feel she has to clean her plate.
Don’t obsess: In mere months, no one will remember if your baby ate pears or sweet potatoes first, or whether grandma recklessly mashed bananas into her rice cereal. Plus, excessive hand-wringing at the highchair can lead to long-term feeding problems.
Keep it interesting: Add new tastes and textures to your baby’s diet as she hones her eating skills. Follow these guidelines on when to introduce certain foods:
-6 months: Baby cereals and puréed fruits and vegetables
-7 months: Jarred baby-food meat
-8 months: Mashed table foods, such as well-baked sweet potatoes; soft, ripe fruits; and well-cooked carrots.
-9 months: Soft, diced finger foods (try well-cooked green beans and broccoli spears, bananas, pancakes and soft fusilli or elbow pasta)
-1 year: Whole eggs (as long as there is no family history of egg allergy)
-After 1 year: Cheese and whole milk
By her first birthday, your tiny, milk-drunk newborn will be transformed into a competent eater, ruler of the highchair and ready for cake. Which is, of course, a whole new challenge.