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Is your little one starting to become more curious about what’s on your plate? Have you noticed them grabbing for forks, cups, or other tabletop items lately? Congratulations! Your baby may be ready to graduate from exclusive breast milk or formula feeding to solid foods — an exciting milestone!
Many parents can’t wait for the day they can include their future foodies in mealtime, but before you start sharing your plate, you may want to learn more about the baby food stages.
When is the right time to start introducing solid foods? What foods are appropriate for each stage? What foods should be avoided? Read on to learn all about the baby food stages.
Many people have opinions about when babies should start solid foods.
A lot of new mothers have been told that adding rice cereal to their baby’s bottle will help them stay full and sleep long. While this advice may come from a good place, feeding your baby too early can lead to obesity, poor metabolic function, gluten allergies, and skin conditions later in life. Experts also agree that adding rice cereal to a bottle is risky and offers almost no benefit.
Similarly to starting too early though, waiting longer than six months to introduce solid foods can also have its downfalls. From feeding issues and vitamin deficiencies to developmental issues.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says you should start your child on solids around six months if they are exclusively breastfed. If your baby drinks formula, you may be able to start a little earlier, between four to six months old.
Babies all grow and develop at their own pace, and what works for one family may not work for you. While four to six months is a good starting point, pay attention to your baby’s cues like the ones listed below. If these check out, then you’re ready to move on to the baby food stages one through three. Always consult your child’s pediatrician if you have questions.
Can sit up on their own with good head support? Your baby should be able to sit in a high chair without added support before you introduce solids like potatoes or chicken.
Sitting up straight is important when it comes to breathing and swallowing coordination.
When you eat, does your baby try reaching for your food? Do they open their mouth trying to get a taste? They may be ready to start solid foods if you have noticed these signs.
Babies have a tongue-thrust reflex that allows them to drink from the breast or bottle. It also helps protect against choking. Usually, babies grow out of this reflex between four to eight months old; however, it is usually gone or mostly gone by six months.
You can test to see if they still have their tongue-thrust reflex by putting a clean spoon in their mouth. If your baby pushes the spoon out of their mouth, it’s still present. If they open their mouth and take the spoon, it is likely gone or fading.
You can start baby food stage one when your child reaches four to six months old. During this time, you can start looking for the signs they are ready for solid foods. Breastmilk or formula should not be reduced during this time, instead, food should be added to their normal feeding requirements.
Before you start introducing your baby to solids, make a plan. You may want to schedule a specific time of day to introduce new foods and make sure to add these foods to your grocery list.
When you first introduce foods to your baby, you may want to start with softer foods or purees. If you are making food at home, you can try a variety of veggies and meats in a blender. If you are going store bought, most foods will be labeled by stage on the box for ease of selection.
Some pediatricians recommend introducing one food at a time to watch for any allergies. For this reason, jarred baby food in stage one includes a single ingredient and is not mixed.
Whether you make your own food or purchase it, you can start with mashed peas, butternut squash, pumpkin, avocados, bananas, apples, yogurt, cottage cheese, or green beans. Some pediatricians may also recommend baby cereal. This cereal is specially made from oats, rice, or barley, for babies.
At this age, your baby can sit in their highchair and you can feed them with a spoon. Some babies may pick up small pieces of food, but this usually happens a little later.
When babies start trying new foods, they may not eat a lot. The first step is getting them used to new tastes and textures. They have spent their whole lives drinking milk; it may take them a little bit to get used to solid foods, especially if they are on the younger side of this age group. Start feeding them a tablespoon or less, once a day.
Once your baby gets used to new foods, they may be ready to upgrade to thicker purees — baby food stage two! Generally, babies are ready to make this leap between six to nine months. If you buy jarred food, these foods will be thicker than stage one and have more exciting mixtures. The primary change during this stage is that different foods and flavors are combined.
By this point, most foods can be introduced. Your baby should be getting fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and protein.
Now is a good time to also introduce finger foods, like puffs. Puffs are similar to the popular cereal you know and love, but they are specially designed with babies in mind. When eaten, they get soft and dissolve in the mouth — helping to avoid any choking.
You’ll probably still be spoon feeding your little one, but hopefully at this point you both have gotten into the rhythm of mealtime. Making it easier on both of you!
When your baby reaches eight or nine months, they should be eating three meals a day, along with breastmilk or formula.
As your little one continues to learn and explore different foods and thicker textures, they will be ready for chopped, ground, or mashed foods. You may also begin to move away from purees altogether. This is baby food stage three, the final hill!
If you buy jarred baby food, you’ll notice small, soft chunks in the purees now. You may want to offer softer foods you make for dinner to your baby at this age — think steamed veggies, mashed potatoes, fruit pieces, etc. This will help them get used to your routine and what your family eats regularly.
Babies can try most foods by this age, including hot dogs, beef, sweet potato, and broccoli. As long as the foods are soft enough for your baby to chew with their teeth or gums, they can try them. Just be sure you’re finely chopping and sizing foods accordingly.
Never leave your baby unattended while eating, especially if you give them small finger foods to try. Babies tend to put a lot of food in their mouths at one time, so it’s important to watch them at all times to avoid choking.
While you may be excited to let your baby try all the new things they can, there are certain foods you should avoid until they are at least one year old. Make sure to check the ingredients in the foods you give them to ensure they are not eating anything unsafe.
Honey poses the risk of infantile botulism. While this disease is super rare, it is very serious and can lead to death if not treated promptly.
Typical symptoms include constipation, lethargy, and listlessness. If your baby has these symptoms, it is best to get medical attention as soon as possible.
Unpasteurized foods like milk, cheeses, and juices can carry bacteria, such as salmonella, E. coli, and listeria. Babies and young children’s immune systems are not developed enough to protect against these viruses, leading to serious illness.
It’s better not to introduce your baby to sugary foods and drinks. Not only do sugar foods often lack any nutritional value, but they can also teach your baby unhealthy habits at a young age.
Sugary drinks also include juices. Instead, try whole or pureed fruits. Water and formula or breastmilk are the best options for drinking before one.
Remember, your little one is new to this eating thing. They are still honing in on their swallowing abilities, and most babies don’t have all of their teeth in until after one. Be mindful about what you give them and consider if it could be a choking hazard.
Here are some foods that are considered choking hazards:
It’s essential to show your baby good eating habits early. These habits can include the foods you actually feed your baby to the routines put in place around meal time.
Getting your baby used to nutritionally dense, whole foods early on may help them crave healthy options rather than junk foods that do not have as much nutritional value. Healthy food habits can help promote an overall healthy lifestyle.
Eating together as a family can increase connectedness and consistency and help learn healthy food behaviors and attitudes in the family, which is essential for growing children’s overall well-being and mental health.
Introducing your baby to foods can be an exciting and overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be.
Whether you choose homemade or jarred food, it will take time for your baby to get comfortable with the new textures and flavors that go along with eating solid foods. Try to start with purees and move through the baby food stages every few months.
Keep in mind, some foods you should be avoided altogether—honey, unpasteurized milk products and juices, sugary foods and drinks, and any food that is considered a choking hazard. Besides the foods on the no list, make eating a fun activity. Include your baby in your family meal times to help them learn healthy eating habits.
Don’t forget to grab that bib; babies can be extra messy!
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