How to introduce solid food to babies
For babies, making the transition to solids can be exciting, stressful and messy!
Babies delight in learning about textures and flavors, and trying new foods helps develop their taste buds, promotes social growth and provides sensory stimulation.
Dr. Tara Kotagal, a pediatrician with Lurie Children's Primary Care at Town & Country Pediatrics, shares recommendations on how to gradually introduce little ones to the world of solid foods.
Fortified baby cereal is often a good first solid to try, but families are encouraged to work with their pediatrician on what makes sense for their child. Initial solid foods should serve to complement a baby's diet, while their main source of daily calories should still come from formula or breast milk.
"When offering solids, make sure your baby is sitting up and is well-supported," Kotagal said. "Put a small amount of food on a baby spoon, hold the spoon near your baby's lips and let them take a taste. You may have to try a few times. It's OK if your baby gets messy!"
Babies love the social aspect of eating, so bringing them to the table for meals and eating beside them can be a helpful part of the process.
"Don't be afraid to get silly and model feeding behaviors. Talk about the foods you are eating, make 'mmm' and 'yummy' sounds, and show your baby how you put food in your mouth. They will love learning from you and will start to copy what you are doing," said Kotagal.
Start introducing different solids slowly, and not more than one new food every few days. One sequence families can try is to offer baby cereal each day the first week, adding a piece of mashed banana in the second week, and then trying a different type of puree in the third.
Early on, parents can try solids with their child once or twice a day -- just a few tablespoons at a time -- slowly increasing how much is given and how often. By the time their baby is 12 months old, three regular mealtimes a day and a couple of snacks thrown in is the ideal.
"Match the size and texture of the food to your baby's development. As they begin to acquire exciting new skills, like the ability to grasp or pinch, give them foods that help them practice those skills. Babies love to explore foods and try to feed themselves," Kotagal said.
For example, at around 6 months old, babies can grab and hold things in their palms. At this time, parents can try finger foods such as soft pieces of fruits or vegetables. It's recommended to avoid crunchy things, like apple slices, or round-shaped foods that could be choking hazards (such as whole grapes, popcorn or uncut hot dogs).
At around 9 months old, the baby's fine motor skills will start to improve. This means they can grab smaller pieces of food with their fingers, and they love to practice this skill with pieces of cereal (like Cheerios). This is also a great time to give them a sippy cup filled with water, so they can practice holding and drinking.
Early introduction of certain foods may also help prevent the development of food allergies. Families are encouraged to work with their pediatrician to determine any risk factors in their child, but common food allergies include cow's milk products, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy and sesame.
"Only introduce one allergen at a time to help observe any possible signs of an allergic reaction," Kotagal recommends. "Signs can include a rash, hives, swollen lips, vomiting, diarrhea or difficulty breathing, and you should contact your care team right away if you notice any of these."
Babies can try a wide variety of solid foods within the first year of life, but it's recommended that honey and cow's milk are avoided. Cow's milk in another form -- such as yogurt or cheese -- is OK, but their milk source should be breast milk or formula until they turn 1 year of age. Honey may cause an illness called botulism.
Families can explore the Lurie Children's website for additional newborn resources (luriechildrens.org/en/specialties-conditions/pediatricians/resources-for-new-expecting-parents).
In addition to expert specialty care, Lurie Children's offers several primary care locations around the Chicago area for children's health care needs from infancy through childhood and adolescence. Learn more about Lurie Children's primary care services: www.luriechildrens.org/en/specialties-conditions/pediatricians.
• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. For more information, visit www.LurieChildrens.org.