Dietary habits are a very important part of every child’s life. As with most habits, a child’s nutritional pattern will be set early on in life and is reinforced with repetition. It is important to set a routine early and follow it as your child grows, to help establish good dietary habits. With this in mind, every child is different and you must respect and work with this. You cannot force a child to eat if he does not want to do so. You should also never use food as a punishment or a reward.
One important issue to address is when it is appropriate to start solid foods. Many parents will try to start solids too soon in an attempt to help their baby sleep through the night. This is not appropriate and can harm your baby if he is not ready. Solid food is not a necessary part of a baby’s nutrition before 4 months of age. In addition, your baby is not developmentally ready to handle the thicker texture of baby food before 4 months. Most babies will gag if you attempt to give them solids before they are ready. Starting solids early means that you will also run the risk of causing an allergic reaction by giving your baby foods that his body is not prepared to digest.
When your child is between 4-6 months of age, you may begin introducing rice cereal. The first time you introduce it to your baby, you will want to mix the cereal with formula or breastmilk until it is a thin, liquid consistency. Mix a small amount, as your baby will not eat very much to begin with. Begin by offering your baby a small amount on a baby spoon. If at any point, your baby gags or chokes, he is not ready, and solids should be put off for several more weeks and then tried again. For the first few attempts, your baby will push most of the cereal off of the spoon, but he will gradually get the hang of using it. After several feeds, when you feel your baby is getting the hang of a spoon, begin to thicken the cereal each time you feed until it reaches the consistency of baby food. You may then try oatmeal and barley cereals, waiting 3-4 days before introducing each new cereal. Now you are ready to move on to Stage 1 baby food.
Stage 1 Baby Food
Stage 1 baby foods consist of individual fruits and vegetables and should be the first baby food that your baby is fed. When you are ready to start, there are a few rules to follow. Begin with a single fruit or vegetable (fruits are often tolerated better because they are sweet). Stick with this fruit/vegetable for the next 3-4 days and do not introduce any new foods during this time. This will allow you to see if your baby is going to develop any allergic reaction to the new food. If diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, or any rash develops, stop feeding this food and discuss with your pediatrician. After 3-4 days you may introduce the next fruit/vegetable and so on.
Stage 2 Baby Food
Once your baby has successfully tried all of the fruits and vegetables, you are ready to move on to Stage 2 food which are basically mixed fruits and mixed vegetables. Meats are generally introduced last and typically around age 7-8 months. Some Stage 2 foods contain meat mixed with either vegetables or fruits.
Stage 3 Baby Food
Stage 3 baby food contains small pieces of food mixed in with the puree. Typically you should start this stage around 9-10 months when your child is beginning to mash food with his gums and/or beginning to cut teeth. Again, if your baby gags or chokes when trying Stage 3 foods he is not ready and you should try again in a few weeks.
Your baby is ready to try finger foods once he is taking stage 3 baby food. In general, once your baby is mashing food with his gums and cutting teeth, you may introduce finger foods. The best “crackers” for your baby to hold and self-feed are Gerber’s Wagon Wheels and Biter Biscuits. While these foods tend to be very messy, they do not break apart very easily and are less of a choking risk than some other finger foods. You may also want to try Rice Krispies or Cheerios which will allow your baby to begin developing his pincer grasp.
Foods to Avoid
First, we should mention the foods which pose a major choking risk. These include hot dogs, peanuts, whole grapes, and popcorn. The Gerber graduate hot dogs are acceptable as your baby begins eating finger foods because they are more the texture of Vienna sausages. The problem with hot dogs (and other encased meats) is that they are spongy in texture, and if a piece becomes lodged in the airway, they are very difficult to remove and can result in death.
|Cow’s Milk||1 year|
|Honey/Corn Syrup||1 year|
|Egg whites||2 years|
|Peanuts/peanut butter||3 years|
Of the above items, honey and corn syrup deserve special mention. Parents often think they are helping their child by adding honey or corn syrup to a bottle or using it to sweeten the pacifier, but what you might not know is that it could kill your child. Honey and corn syrup are not pasteurized. Therefore, they can contain botulinum spores. These spores when swallowed by adults and older children are of little consequence, but in infants, they can mature in the immature GI tract and produce the botulinum toxin that causes botulism, a sometimes fatal condition in infants. For this reason, you should never give an infant honey or corn syrup in any form. Parents frequently ask if it is okay to consume honey while breastfeeding. Spores are not absorbed into the blood stream and therefore cannot be passed to a baby. It is therefore safe for a breastfeeding mother to consume honey or corn syrup.