By Elizabeth M Ward, MS, RD
Adding solids to your baby’s diet is an exciting milestone, for you and your child. But it can be confusing, especially when it comes to food allergies. Here are answers to common questions so you can feed your baby with confidence.
When Do I start?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the best time is when babies are around six months old. And research suggests starting solids too early may lead to excessive weight gain during infancy and childhood.
But age is just one of the criteria to assess a child’s readiness for solids. Here are some others:
- They can hold their head up with good control for short periods of time.
- They accept food. The first few times your child encounters a baby spoon, they’ll probably spit it out. This is a natural response that won’t last if he or she is truly ready for solids.
- They’re interested in what you’re eating. Your child may lean toward your food and even try to grab it!
- They’ve doubled their birth weight, or close to it, which usually occurs by four months of age.
What Should I Feed My Baby?
What to feed infants is a hot topic, and you may be hearing conflicting advice about first foods. Here’s what to consider:
- Traditionally, iron-fortified single-grain baby cereals, such as rice cereal, has been the go-to first food for children. Don’t add baby cereal to a child’s bottle. Instead, prepare it by mixing one teaspoon of cereal with four or five teaspoons of lukewarm breast milk, or infant formula. The soupy mixture will closely resemble a liquid, increasing the chances that baby will accept it, and reducing choking risk. While single-grain cereals are a fine choice, there is no scientific evidence that they must be served at your baby’s first meals.
- Pureed fruits, vegetables, and meat are also safe and nutritious options for your child’s first foray into solid foods, and they are acceptable when given in any order. Pureed meat is an excellent source of iron that the body easily absorbs.
- Most babies are born with enough iron in their bodies to last about six months. It’s important to offer iron-rich foods when starting solids because your child’s intake of fortified infant formula, and naturally iron-rich breast milk, declines.
- Try one food at a time with baby, and after a few days, introduce another food. Offer new foods early in the day and well before a scheduled nap or bedtime so you can monitor your child for any reactions. Your baby will soon get the hang of eating a varied diet!
How Can I Help Prevent Food Allergies?
One of the most common feeding concerns parents have is about introducing potentially allergenic foods, like fish, eggs, dairy, soy, and peanut products. For years, experts thought that delaying these foods would head off allergy symptoms, especially eczema, but scientific evidence has proved otherwise.
Guidelines released in 2017 by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) recommend giving peanut foods to infants to prevent allergy. Research shows that the majority of parents may introduce baby-safe peanut foods, such as thinned peanut butter, peanut puffs and powdered peanut butter, at about six months of age. (Avoid whole peanuts and unmodified peanut butter as they are choking hazards for infants.)
While more than 98 percent of children will never develop peanut allergy, children with severe eczema or egg allergy, or both, may be in the “high risk” category for peanut allergy, and parents should talk with pediatrician before introducing peanut foods. The NIAID also suggests introducing peanut foods to high-risk infants as early as four months of age, and to continue giving them two grams (or two teaspoons peanut butter or peanut powder) of peanut protein in a meal or snack three times a week.
Discuss your baby’s dietary needs with your pediatrician. If your infant is not at risk for peanut allergy, it’s OK to offer them baby-safe peanut foods at home and as often you like.
What about older infants?
The AAP encourages at least a year of breastfeeding or longer if you and your child want to and are able. Your child doesn’t need infant formula after his first birthday and can transition to drinking cow’s milk instead.
With the exception of milk (most children should drink two percent reduced-fat or full-fat milk until age two), a one-year-old can eat just about anything at meals, as long as he or she is not allergic, and the food is mashed or cut into small pieces to prevent choking.
It’s natural for your child to want to feed him- or herself. While this usually makes for messier mealtimes, it’s important to encourage children to learn to self-feed. It promotes coordination and teaches them how to regulate their food intake, which helps encourage a healthy weight in childhood and beyond.
Now that you have some new knowledge, we hope feeding your infant is a joyful learning experience for you and your baby!
(1) What are the recommendations for breastfeeding? National Institute of Health website. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/breastfeeding/conditioninfo/recommendations. Updated January 31, 2017. Accessed June 1, 2018.
(2) Starting Solids too Early May Increase Obesity Risk. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/Starting-Solids-Too-Early-May-Increase-Obesity-Risk.aspx. Published February 7, 2011. Accessed June 1, 2018.