The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Some mothers choose to bottle feed their babies with formula in conjunction with breastfeeding, particularly as the baby begins to wean. There are two varieties of formula: formula made from cow’s milk and formula made from soy protein.
Both kinds have vitamins, minerals and a fatty-acid profile similar to human milk. Formula can be purchased in three forms: ready-to-serve liquid, powdered or condensed (you’ll need to add water to the latter two; follow directions exactly). Clean all bottles with hot, soapy water before using. Never heat formula in a microwave, as this heats it unevenly. Rather, place the filled bottle in a pan of water and then heat the water. Always test the temperature of the formula before giving it to your baby.
The choice not to breastfeed: Some women choose not to nurse for modesty or other reasons. Other women simply cannot, such as those who are undergoing chemotherapy or taking certain antithyroid medications or who have had breast implants that were inserted through the nipple. (Implants that are placed underneath the breast or put in through the armpit do not affect a woman’s ability to nurse, however.)
Women who work outside the home or who must be away from their babies for hours and days at a time may feel unable to nurse. (Fifty-nine percent of mothers with babies under age 1 now work, nearly double that of 1976, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.) These women can help their babies reap the benefits of breast milk by pumping before and during work so the baby’s caregivers always have an adequate supply. Many working moms use a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding with success.
When to start solid foods: Most pediatricians recommend supplementing a diet of breast milk with slowly introduced solid foods starting when the baby is 4 to 6 months old. But don’t push your child to vary her diet before she is ready; starting her on solids too soon can increase her chances of developing food allergies. The foods most commonly associated with infant allergies include wheat, egg whites, citrus fruits and juices, and cow’s milk; they are best avoided until your child reaches about 1 year of age.
Is your baby ready? Your baby is ready for something other than the breast or bottle when she holds her head up on her own and becomes extremely interested in what’s on your plate. When you do start her on solids, be sure to introduce foods one at a time, and don’t force her to consume more than she wants; even the most experienced 6-month-old eater may consume only three to four tablespoons per meal. Other dietary requirements should be met by breast milk and/or formula.
What foods when: Remember to introduce only one food at a time.
> 4–6 months: Single-grain, iron-fortified infant cereals are best to start with. Rice cereal is most often recommended as a first food because it is gluten-free and less associated with allergic responses.
> 6–8 months Continue to add strained and mashed foods, such as steamed carrots, zucchini, broccoli or green beans; and pureed fruits, such as peaches and bananas. Avoid foods with added sugars or salt; your baby may reject all other foods after getting a taste of the sweet or seasoned stuff.
Sweet foods, such as applesauce, will usually be happily accepted, but it may take some time for your child to get used to the taste and texture of other foods, such as vegetables. Don’t force your child to eat anything on the first try, but don’t give up; if she resists a helping of strained squash, for example, give it a rest for a few days and then try again later.
> 8–12 months: Try giving your baby some finely chopped table foods. All foods should be steamed and cooled, with a texture that readily dissolves in the mouth. Foods that require chewing are more likely to cause choking until the child has both the teeth and the muscular coordination to handle them.