The holiday season is upon us and many families are sharing wonderfully prepared meals together. So this month I’d like to discuss healthy meals for infants! The American Academy of Pediatrics is continually researching benefits about the right time to introduce baby foods, and it has changed several times over the years. So what are current recommendations?
There was a time when pediatricians told parents it was more beneficial to wait until 6-9 months before starting baby foods so as to have enough developmental skills to properly eat. Then it switched, and pediatricians believed that if you started earlier, around 2-3 months, it would allow parents to use feeding baby food as a means of teaching these developmental skills. Now research has shown the correct answer is probably in between. Currently, pediatricians generally recommend introducing baby foods anywhere between 4-6 months of age.
Infants usually have good head control and can sit with support at this age, which is an important skill to safely introduce solid foods. They are usually starting to teeth at this age, so they naturally will be chewing more regularly. And it is a little older to avoid some of the negative side effects such as food allergies and obesity. This is still being studied, but it has been found that infants who were introduced to baby foods before 4 months had more food allergies and eczema in their childhood and also had a higher Body Mass Index in late childhood than those that were exclusively breastfed until 6 months of age.
It is important to remember that until 12 months of age, your infant is going to be getting most of the calories and nutrients it needs for proper growth and brain development from breastmilk or formula. So when introducing baby foods, you should start with Stage 1 foods (pureed fruits, vegetables, and rice or oatmeal cereal) that are either homemade without any added seasoning or flavors or store-bought. Do not put foods in the bottle, because remember, this is more about helping with oral-motor skills perfected by spoon feeding than about adding nutrition. So, start with a 2 oz. jar and give with a spoon twice a day.
Some parents recommend starting with cereals, then vegetables, then fruits, saying that once their infant has tried fruits it is difficult to get them to taste vegetables again. I would agree with the logic in that, but still be persistent. Sometimes it takes 10-15 different times of trying a food before they like it, so you can always give one a break and come back to it a couple of days later. The important thing to remember is that you wait about five days before introducing a new food, so that you can tell if your child has developed an allergy to the newest food that you have introduced.
Once your infant has improved on the skills to eat Stage 1 foods, you can introduce Stage 2 foods, which are pureed meats, and this usually occurs between 6-9 months of age. Then around 9 months you can start trying small finger foods or pieces from your plate at meal times. Just remember at this time to make foods small enough so they are not a choking hazard. Also around 9 months, they should be mastering feeding themselves with a spoon, so be sure to give them a little independence at this age. Remember, this is a fun – and messy – time in your child’s life, so grab a spoon and a camera and have fun watching your little infant progress and grow!