Breast milk or formula is the only food babies need for the first 6 months of life, at which point solid foods can be gradually introduced. Ideally, your baby will be fed only breast milk until 6 months of age. Some babies may be ready for solid foods at 4 or 5 months. Ask your doctor when you can start feeding your baby solid foods. He or she will want to be certain that your baby is physically and developmentally ready. And if a family member has food allergies, ask whether and how to start foods that might cause allergies. Most allergic reactions in children are caused by eggs, milk, wheat, soy, and peanuts.
Although breastfed babies get the best possible nutrition, they will probably need certain vitamin or nutritional supplements to maintain or improve their health. Breastfed babies need 400 IU of vitamin D each day from a supplement. Formula-fed babies may also need a vitamin D supplement, depending on how much formula they drink each day. Talk with your doctor about how much and what sources of vitamin D are right for your baby. After 4 months of age, your baby will probably not get enough iron from breast milk alone. Your doctor may prescribe a liquid iron supplement until your baby gets enough iron from iron-fortified formulas or foods high in iron. Breastfed babies born prematurely may be prescribed a liquid iron supplement by 1 month of age.
Your baby may be ready to start eating solid foods if he or she:
When you and your doctor have determined your baby is ready to start eating solid foods, keep these general guidelines in mind.
It's best to keep these specific guidelines in mind, too:
As you introduce new foods, it is important to pay attention to your baby's cues. When your baby's head turns away from a spoonful of food, don't force it. But try again later. Let your baby tell you when he or she is full. Also, it may help to introduce new foods when your baby is well rested and there are no distractions, such as a TV.
As your baby learns to feed himself or herself, keep in mind that your job is to provide a variety of nutritious foods, but your baby will decide how much to eat. It may take more than 10 times before your child accepts a new food.footnote 4
Your baby will quickly gain new eating skills, such as chewing, swallowing, and using cups and utensils, at about 6 to 12 months of age. Offer your baby a variety of nutritious foods and gradually allow him or her to explore different tastes and textures. Try to be patient as your baby experiments and learns, and be tolerant of messes. Your baby will likely enjoy playing with a spoon, but most of the food will fall off it. It's natural for your baby to "make a mess" while learning about food. Until your baby can handle a spoon better, you can give your baby a clean spoon to hold while you feed him or her with a different spoon.
To help reduce your cleanup, use a child's high chair that has a detachable tray and raised rims. The rims on the tray help keep dishes and food from sliding off. And you can carry the tray to the sink for cleaning. Cover the seat with a removable, washable pad. Also, think about covering the floor around the high chair. Remember—your child is learning by experimenting.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Age four months through seven months. In SP Shelov et al., eds., Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 5th ed., pp. 217–247. New York: Bantam.
- Stettler N, et al. (2011). Feeding healthy infants, children, and adolescents. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 160–170. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Kimmel SR, Ratliff-Schaub K (2011). Growth and development. In RE Rakel, DP Rakel, eds., Textbook of Family Medicine, 8th ed., pp. 421–441. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
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