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baby's first bites

As your little one moves from a milk-only diet to solid food, you'll likely have lots of questions about timing, variety, and potential allergies. Read on as we reveal the basics so you can help baby get the most out of this important, and exciting, stage of development.

is baby ready for solid food?

There are several signs to look for when determining if baby is ready for solid foods. If he can hold his own head up, shows interest in food with chewing motions and has doubled his birth weight (minimum of 13 pounds and at least 4 months old), chances are you can start introducing solid food to baby's feeding routine, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Typically, most babies show signs of solid food readiness between 4 and 6 months old. If you have any concerns, check with your pediatrician first. If baby is not ready, his digestive system won't have the necessary enzymes to digest the food. In addition, offering an infant solid food prematurely has been linked to an increased risk of food allergies and obesity.

Keep in mind that even after baby has made the switch to solid food, you will still need to supplement his diet with breast milk or formula until he's at least a year old.

introducing solid food to baby

The AAP's dish of choice for baby's first meal is warm rice cereal mixed with breast milk or formula. Rice cereal is easy on the digestive system and not likely to cause an allergic reaction. Look for cereals that are made from brown rice and keep their manufacturing process to a minimum. Start slowly, providing your baby a teaspoon or two after breastfeeding (if you bottle-feed, wait an hour or so before you begin) for the first few days. Once cereal has become a regular part of your little one's feeding routine, you can move on to other solid foods.

Small amounts (about a tablespoon) of mashed bananas, avocados, or sweet potatoes are excellent candidates for this next step, but should be introduced one at a time. Give your baby at least three days with each new food to determine whether he is allergic to it. Food allergy symptoms may include rash, bloating, diarrhea, and fussiness, and usually involve products containing milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, eggs, fish or shellfish. By the time your child reaches 9 months, you should start to supplement finely pureed fruits and vegetables with bite-size pieces of bread, pasta shapes, and small amounts of protein from sources like eggs, pureed or minced meats and mashed beans. Check with your pediatrician on which soft cheeses are safe for baby's consumption.

homemade vs. store-bought baby food

The choice between homemade and store-bought baby food essentially comes down to personal preference. There are plenty of healthy baby food products on grocery store shelves, and even some organic varieties. Although they don't contain any more nutrients than regular foods, products labeled "USDA Organic" must be made from organic ingredients, 95 percent of which are free from the pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, and irradiation processes that are commonly employed in standard food manufacturing.

If you're intimidated by the thought of making your own baby food, you might be surprised to learn that the process can be quick and easy, as well as affordable. In the very beginning, all you'll need is a fork to soften the fruit or vegetable. When your child is ready to graduate to more complicated fare, there are a few new products on the market that combine a steamer with a food processor to make whipping up your own recipes faster and more convenient. However, the AAP cautions that if you wish to make baby food at home, you should avoid beets, squash, carrots, green beans, and spinach, all which may contain nitrates that can cause an uncommon type of anemia in infants.

DHA-enhanced foods

DHA, which stands for docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that's necessary to keep the brain and nervous system in tip-top shape. In fact, higher blood levels of the compound have been linked to greater cognitive skills and visual acuity in children.

DHA is found primarily in fatty cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines. Seaweed and algae are also good sources. (Just steer clear of fish like mackerel, shark, and swordfish, which are known to contain high levels of mercury, and keep consumption of tuna to about six ounces a week.)

Breast milk has also been shown to contain a concentration of DHA that ranges from 0.07 percent to 1 percent, so if you get enough of the fatty acid in your diet and you've been breastfeeding baby, he should be getting the right amount of DHA. If bottle-feeding, there are several baby formulas available that include an algae-derived form of the nutrient. If you're interested in adding a few DHA-enhanced foods to your child's diet, please consult your pediatrician beforehand.

types of baby food

commercial baby food

Most leading brands of baby food try to keep their products free from added sugar, starch, and sodium. Some brands even offer unprocessed organic baby food. Whether you opt to choose an organic diet or not, you'll find an extensive variety of fruits, juices, vegetables, and dinner combinations that will allow baby to develop a taste for many foods.

homemade baby food

Homemade food lets you decide the ingredients, variety, texture, and freshness of baby's meals. When preparing your own baby food, take extra care in chopping and mashing foods to the appropriate consistency. It's usually only after the first 9-12 months that a doctor will recommend introducing the baby to foods the rest of the family enjoys.

storing and heating Instructions

Store baby food in a cool, dry place, and serve at room temperature. If the food is in a jar, serve the food in a separate dish and refrigerate what you don't use immediately. Don't feed baby directly from the jar or packet as baby's saliva can put bacteria into any leftover food. Though baby food jars are typically microwave-safe, experts advise warming the food by placing it in a bowl of hot water or in a food warmer. Microwaving heats unevenly and causes hot spots that can scald baby's tender mouth.

mealtime must-haves

Mealtime is a special time to bond with baby. It is also a time to expect the unexpected as your little one turns his cheek to a spoonful of peas or decides to finger feed himself! It is always a good idea to have mealtime accessories on hand. You'll learn there is no typical mealtime routine for babies who have just gotten their first taste of solid food.

bibs

Mealtimes can be a messy...that's why bibs were invented! Be sure to stock up on this must-have feeding essential. There's a great selection for every stage of baby's development:

drooler and feeder bibs

  • For babies from newborn to 1 year
  • Feature popular characters, great designs, and appealing colors
  • Soft and absorbent
  • Some have a waterproof backing
  • All are washer and dryer safe
  • Available in self-fastening, snap and tie-back styles

cover-style bibs

  • Ideal for toddlers
  • Feature popular characters, great designs, and appealing colors
  • Long enough to protect child's torso from spills and messes
  • Made from an absorbent terry cloth towel material or waterproof material (ensure bib is lead safe, and PVC, BPA, phthalate and vinyl free)
  • Wide neck opening for easy wear
  • Gutter pockets to collect liquid and food spills

other mealtime accessories

training cups allow your child to transition from drinking milk, juice or water from a bottle to a cup. These cups are designed to be spill-proof and have a handle or are contoured for a comfortable grip.

spill-proof cups feature a special design that allows liquid to flow through the opening only when your child takes a sip. Plus, they're great for travel!

feeding bowls may have suction-cup bases to prevent your child from overturning. Most come with plastic lids for storage and are microwave- and dishwasher-safe.

soft-bite spoons have long handles that allow better control and cushioned spoons that let baby bite down on without any discomfort. Some spoons even gauge the temperature of the food and change color if the food is too hot.

splash-mats are placed under baby's high chair or booster seat and prevent spills from getting on the carpet or floor. They're convenient and easy to clean.

Transitioning from breastfeeding or bottle-feeding to solid foods can be a breeze when you follow these simple guidelines. And remember: if you have any questions, just ask your pediatrician!