When to introduce bottles, how to choose the right formula, when baby is ready for solid food—these are some of the questions new mothers have when it comes to what, and when, to feed their little one. Fortunately, knowing what to feed your baby and when to introduce new things doesn’t have to be so complicated.
“It can be confusing, especially for new moms, to know exactly what to feed their baby,” says Shannon Hendrix, director of Clinical Nutrition at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “There are some simple guidelines to follow to make sure your baby is getting proper nutrition that can be helpful in alleviating some of that stress.”
We’ve all heard by now “breast is best.” In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for babies for about six months. The AAP further recommends that moms continue to breastfeed until your child is 12 months old, even after adding solids to your baby’s diet.
Sometimes breastfeeding isn’t possible, and in those instances, formula is the best substitute. Formula brands nowadays offer several of the beneficial nutrients found in breast milk and are easy to prepare: Simply mix powder or liquid with water and shake, or pour pre-made formula in a bottle and you’re done.
The transition to introducing solid foods can be more challenging, as you want to make sure your baby is ready for this next step on her nutritional journey. So, how do you know if your little one is ready to venture into the world of solid foods? Here are some signs to look for:
- Baby holds his/her head up consistently for long periods of time
- Sits up without assistance
- Birth weight has doubled and baby weighs at least 13 pounds
- Exhibits increased interest in watching parents eat, and may even move mouth and make biting motions
The first solid to introduce is generally baby cereal, which comes in powder form. It is mixed with breast milk or formula, and is usually integrated into a baby’s diet between four and six months of age. “Keep in mind, introducing solids, including cereal, shouldn’t take away from or decrease breast milk or formula feedings,” says Hendrix.
The fun starts between six and nine months, when your baby can add a greater selection of solid foods. In addition to baby cereal, you can start out with unsweetened dry cereals, fresh or cooked mashed bananas and vegetables (squash, peas, carrots, green beans), and chopped and jarred meats or poultry cooked plainly without seasonings. “Introduce new foods one at a time and wait at least three to four days before adding a new food to your baby’s diet; this helps identify any potential allergies or sensitivity to particular foods,” says Hendrix.
During the nine- to twelve-month stage of your baby’s development, you begin to add in foods such as crackers, breads, muffins, rice, noodles, peeled and soft fruits like pears and peaches (bite-sized pieces with no seeds), well-cooked and bite-sized portions of meats (including poultry and fish), cooked beans, yogurt and cottage cheese. “You don’t want to introduce regular cow’s milk until your child reaches one year of age. When they’re ready for milk, make sure it’s whole milk and not skim or low-fat,” says Hendrix. Hendrix also notes that it’s important to use adjusted age when dealing with a baby who was born prematurely.
While it’s important to know what you should be feeding your baby at particular milestones in their development, it is vital to know how to safely feed your baby to prevent accidents. Below are some safety tips to consider:
- Bottles are for breast milk or formula only. Never add infant cereal, sugar, corn syrup, solids, or extra water to a baby’s bottle.
- Do not heat bottles in the microwave, as heating may be uneven and burn a baby’s mouth.
- Discard breast milk or formula left in a bottle after feeding.
- Do not spoon food directly from the jar unless the entire jar is to be used. Refrigerate leftovers and do not keep for longer than 24 hours.
- Do not offer foods that may cause a child to choke; examples include hot dogs or meat sticks, raw vegetables, whole grapes, berries, nuts, popcorn, hard candy and peanut butter.
More information, including a feeding guide for baby’s first year, can be found via the free MyACH iPhone app in the “Health Library” section. Visit the App Store and search “MyACH” or “Arkansas Children’s Hospital” to download the app and have the resources of ACH right at your fingertips.