The transition to solid foods is an exciting time and marks one of the great developmental milestones for your infant. But it is also often a time of confusion as parents struggle to process all the information being thrown at them from friends, family, and the media. I have found that, as with most things, it’s important to keep it simple. To that end, if you keep a few simple thoughts in mind hopefully this transition will be as rewarding as it should be.
First, is your baby even ready for solid foods? There are several developmental factors that will let you know your baby is ready for something other than breast milk.
Can she hold her head up? (sidenote: I have three daughters and a wife. I feel obligated to use this gender-specific pronoun.) Is she able to sit up, head high, without looking like the guy at the end of the bar at 2am?
Is she big enough? (another side note: this is the only time I will ever discuss a girl’s weight.) Generally speaking, babies are ready for solid foods when they are about 13 pounds, which is typically around 4-5 months in a healthy, full-term infant.
Does she even seem interested in food? Transitioning to solids should be a fun experience. If she’s not interested, she’s not interested. Wait until she seems eager to try it, opening her mouth and reaching for what you have. This is no time to make yourself frustrated.
Lastly, and here’s the medical part, does she possess the oral motor skills to effectively take food from the front of her mouth, push it to the back of her mouth, and swallow it? This involves a lot more coordination than you might think. If there seems to be a consistent problem with this process you should talk to your pediatrician before continuing.
As far as what to actually feed your infant, much of what you may have learned is based more on tradition than actual science. Not that that’s a bad thing. As the old adage goes, if your grandmother can’t recognize what you’re giving your baby you probably shouldn’t be giving it. And if the label has twice as many ingredients as the packaging description you should take further heed.
The general trend has typically been to give grains first, followed closely by fruits and vegetables. The actual order, however, doesn’t matter all that much. What does matter is that you wait a couple days between introducing new foods to make sure your infant doesn’t show any signs of allergies, such as vomiting, diarrhea or a rash. And while most infants will prefer the sweetness inherent in fruits it’s important to keep in mind that within a few months of introducing solid foods your infant’s diet should include a variety of breast milk, cereals, vegetables, and fruits.
And don’t forget the bibs.
That’s it. Good luck.
(final side note: I did not invent the concept of feeding babies. For official guidelines and suggestions, I would highly recommend everyone visit healthychildren.org. It’s a website sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics that is designed to help parents both new and old.)
-Dr. Charles Morrow
Dr. Charles Morrow is a pediatrician in Chicago, Illinois and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Adventist Hinsdale Hospital and Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. He received his medical degree from St. George's University School of Medicine and has been in practice for 15 years. He is one of 51 doctors at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital and one of 422 at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago who specialize in Pediatrics. Dr. Charles Morrow is a pediatrician in Chicago.