Has your baby reached the 6-month mark and doubled his or her birth weight? Does your little one always seem famished even though you’ve increased the number of feedings in the last 5 days (even at night)? Maybe, your baby is ready for the next big milestone: solid food. Ok, but where should you start?
Is my baby ready?
Babies need to master certain skills before they are ready for solid foods. For example, they must be able to sit upright without support or hold their head up straight. Remember too that before the age of 6 months, most babies are not physiologically ready to eat complementary foods because:
- they do not produce enough saliva;
- they lack the full neurological and muscular coordination required for swallowing;
- their digestive system does not produce enough enzymes to digest solids;
- their kidneys are not ready to process larger quantities of protein;
- their immune system is not yet fully mature, increasing the risk of allergies.
Good to know!
Depending on their development and growth rates, some babies may need solids before the recommended age of 6 months. But do not introduce solids before a baby is 4 months old.
The order of introduction of solids
In the past, parents were advised to introduce solids in a very specific order to ensure proper growth and reduce the risk of allergies, etc. Knowledge and practices surrounding the introduction of solids have now changed.
The advice that follows is based on the new recommendations from Health Canada as presented in the guide From Tiny Tot to Toddler produced by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (2015 edition).
The order in which foods are introduced varies based on customs and cultures. The important thing is to begin with foods that are rich in iron, a mineral that plays a vital role in a child’s development. Until age two, you can offer your baby the following solids at least twice a day:
- iron-enriched baby cereal
- poultry and meat
It is still recommended to introduce only one food at a time and wait 2 to 3 days before adding a new one. This will give your baby time to get used to each new food and help you better detect any signs of allergies or discomfort.
Once your baby is eating one or more iron-rich foods, you can start adding variety to his or her diet. Within a few weeks, your baby will be eating from all four food groups.
That being said, you no longer need to wait for your baby to be a certain age before introducing specific foods, such as egg whites, fish and peanut butter. We now know that delaying the introduction of these foods does not prevent allergies. Having an immediate family member (father, mother, sister or brother) with an allergic disorder is, however, a risk factor.
During the first year of an infant’s life, solid foods complement, but do not replace breast milk or infant formula. This is why they are called “complementary foods.”
It is also important to know that cow’s milk should not be given to babies before 9 to 12 months of age. It contains excess protein and mineral salts, which could be harmful to their kidneys. In addition, cow’s milk does not contain enough lactose, linoleic acid, vitamins A B1, B6, C, D and E, copper, manganese and iron, all of which are essential to their growth.
Most baby cereals are iron fortified to meet baby’s growing need for this mineral. It is best to start with a single-grain cereal, such as rice or barley, with no added vegetables or fruit, followed by oatmeal, soy and mixed cereals.
Certain cereals for babies even contain probiotics, for healthy digestive tract flora. Always carefully read the label when choosing a product for your child. Make sure it does not contain sugar, salt, preservatives or artificial flavours and colours.
When you first begin solids, mix the cereal with breast milk or infant formula until the puree has a smooth, runny consistency. Start with one teaspoon (5 ml), once or twice a day after a feeding. Gradually increase the serving size. Around the age of one, your baby should eat approximately ½ to ¾ cup (125 to 175 ml) of cereal.
Good to know!
Do not sweeten your baby’s food (cereal or other foods) and look for products that do not contain added sugar. This will give your baby the chance to discover the real taste of food and reduce the risk of dental cavities.
Until age one, never give your baby honey - either pasteurized or unpasteurized, cooked or uncooked. It can cause botulism, a serious form of poisoning that can lead to paralysis and even death.
Which foods? What texture?
Complementary foods, including baby cereals, should always be served with a spoon, not in a bottle, to avoid the risk of choking. As your baby grows accustomed to solids, you can gradually start introducing thicker, chunkier foods. Keep in mind that while babies have no teeth, they can still chew with their gums. This schedule should be helpful.
- At 7 months, babies are ready for slightly lumpier purees mashed with a fork.
- At 8 or 9 months, they can eat soft foods, mashed with a fork or cut into small pieces. Serve with a spoon or encourage them to eat with their hands!
- At 9 to 12 months, babies can eat just about everything – as long as it is cut up into small pieces.
Whole or uncut foods can get caught in a child’s windpipe, blocking air to the lungs. To avoid the risk of choking, never give your child small, round, hard foods, like nuts, hard candy, popcorn, grapes, raisins or hotdogs.
Need advice? Visit your pharmacy and speak with your family pharmacist for answer to your questions!