Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Solid Food Dilemma

Several years ago, pediatricians recommended that parents give their infants formula-diluted baby cereal in a bottle, and they suggested that parents do this for infants as young as one month. Their thinking was that this would help baby sleep through the night. Well, that train of thought has certainly changed!

Today, pediatricians recommend that parents begin introducing solids to their babies between four and six months of age. They do not recommend feeding solid foods to infants younger than this because studies have shown that there is a higher risk of food allergies when baby is fed solids too early or too late.

How do you know when to begin feeding your baby solid foods? It is important that you continue to give your baby either breast milk or formula until he is at least one year old. However, you can begin introducing solids to your child as soon as he shows signs of being ready. What are those signs?

To introduce your baby to solid foods, you should plan on letting her sit down with the family at mealtimes occasionally, even if she is too young to eat solid foods. Mealtimes should also be social events, and it is a wonderful time for your little one to share in a family ritual. As she grows, she will begin to show more interest in what is on your plate. Once you notice that your baby's interest in trying to get to your food has increased, you may be ready to begin starting her on solids.

It is extremely important that you only introduce one food at a time. You should wait several days before introducing a new food to determine if your baby has any food allergies. Most pediatricians recommend that babies be given some type of fortified infant cereal in the beginning. Oatmeal, rice, and barley are all popular cereal, and they are good for your baby. You will need to mix these cereals with breast milk or formula.

When you begin to feed your baby, you should only mix up a small amount of cereal. The first few feedings will definitely be learning experiences for your child, and you may find that he has more cereal on his face than in his tummy. Since the majority of his nourishment will still come from breast milk or formula, however, it really doesn't matter how much cereal you actually get into him. The point is to let him learn how to eat.

You may discover that your baby spends most of his time pushing his food back out of his mouth with his tongue. If he repeatedly does this, you may find that you've started feeding him too early, and he isn't ready to begin eating solid foods yet. If so, put the cereal away for a week or two, and then try it again. However, if he soon learns to keep at least some of the cereal in his mouth, and he has mastered the art of pushing the food to the back of his throat and swallowing, you can continue introducing more solid foods.

Most pediatricians recommend waiting until at least six months of age before introducing fruit juices, so stick with breast milk or formula only until then. You may need to give your baby small sips from his bottle to help him wash his food down occasionally. Once you're baby has been eating cereal successfully for about a week, you can begin introducing fruits and vegetables. Although there are many combo baby foods available, you should hold off giving any of those to your child until you have determined that your baby isn't allergic to any of those foods.

If you aren't sure whether to introduce fruits or vegetables to your baby's diet, you can ask for your pediatrician's advice. Many pediatricians say that either one is acceptable as long as you gradually introduce new foods over a period of several days. Applesauce is a good fruit to begin with, as well as bananas and peaches. You should avoid giving your baby citrus fruits, such as oranges and orange juice, however, until she is older.

Once your baby has reached the six month mark, you can also begin introducing her to the cup. She may balk at the suggestion of replacing her beloved bottle with a cup, however. You may want to start out just giving juice in a cup, and you can still give your baby formula in a bottle or nurse your baby. Even though your baby's tastes have broadened, and she is eating a wider variety of solid food, you still need to give her several bottles of formula or nurse her several times a day.

As you continue to give your baby more and more solid foods, you should be aware that there are several foods that present choking hazards to your little one, and these should never be given to a child under four years old. These foods include grapes, hotdogs, popcorn, nuts, and hard candy. Peanut butter is also difficult for a baby to swallow, so avoid feeding your baby this, also.

Your baby will become more fascinated with handling his own food, and you can encourage the development of his pincher grasp by giving him small pieces of chewable foods, such as Cheerios cereal, small pieces of crackers, and teething biscuits. Don't forget that your baby's esophagus is only about the size of a straw, and you should use caution when giving him anything that could cause him to choke.

Eventually, your child will begin to eat more solid foods and eliminate some of her bottle or breast feedings. You should always consult your physician as to the amount of formula or breast milk feedings your baby should have. Feeding your child solids is an adventure that you and your little one will both enjoy, so have fun but always use caution and common sense. If you teach your child the pleasure of different foods, he should grow up to be a healthy eater.

By Susie McGee

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