Your baby is a little curiosity machine, especially during the first few months of their life. One of the most important behaviors a baby exhibits is a desire to understand the world around them, which is often characterized by putting things they find directly into their mouth.
It might seem like a strange thing to do, but this behavior has a straightforward background to it – your baby is trying to figure out what is food and what is not. As a parent, helping your child figure out the best foods to eat is one of the most important pieces of information you’ll pass on to them.
But the process of taking your child from an all-milk/formula diet to one that includes solid foods can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. In this article, we’ll look at some important techniques you can master to make this process happy and healthy for your baby.
Sings Your Child is Ready for Food
There are lots of opinions out there as to when your child will be ready to jump up to solid foods, but everyone can agree that each child is different and you need to look at your individual baby’s progress to know when they’re ready.
When we talk about being ready for solid food, we’re looking at whether or not the child has developed the physical ability to gum their food and then get it down their throat. Remember, newborns have a strong gag reflex and aren’t yet able to use their tongues effectively. Your baby will probably not know what to do with solid food at first.
Introduce Solids Around 6 Months
Starting at around 4-6 months, though, your baby will begin to lose the tongue-thrust reflex and be ready for their first tastes of solid food. Once you reach this window, whenever you think your child is ready, give them a few spoons of baby food.
Observe to see how they react, whether they’re able to put the food down or if it just ends up dribbling back out. Don’t be discouraged if the first few attempts don’t go well; you need to wait for your baby to be ready.
Feeding your Baby
Many parenting experts are rethinking the traditional model of spoon-feeding in favor of a more baby-led approach.
When spoon-feeding, you’ll load up a small spoonful of food and place it into your baby’s mouth. Give them plenty of time to suck on each spoonful and to completely process the bite, whether it goes down the hatch or back out the front. Once their mouth is empty, they are ready for another spoon.
The baby-lead approach flips this process on its head. Instead of the parent deciding when to have each bite, you’ll lay the food out in front of your baby and let them use their hands to grasp it and transport it into their mouths. This method is, obviously, very, very messy. However, some people say it’s worth the mess because your baby learns to regulate their meals at a much earlier age.
Regardless of which method you choose to deliver food, the mealtime process will be a collaborative one for you and your baby. You’ll always need to sit down and pay close attention to your baby as they eat, making sure to intervene if they show signs of choking or that the food is giving them an allergic reaction.
Introducing New Foods
The most significant part of this process you’ll need to consider is the pace and method at which you introduce new foods to your baby. Once your baby starts on mushy and then solid foods, you should do your best to introduce a new food to the baby once per week.
This kind of decision has lots of benefits for your baby. First, we know that a child’s food preferences have a lot to do with their exposure to foods at this time. Giving your child different types of foods now will help them be more comfortable with a varied diet later.
When giving your baby a new food, don’t be too discouraged if they seem to dislike it at first. It is not uncommon for a baby to take several servings of a new food before they show signs of enjoying it. Do your best to keep the food in their diet unless it is making your baby sick.
Nutrients to Focus On
When you’re taking these initial steps, it is easy to lose track of the essential nutrients your baby needs to grow up healthy. Always keep track of the food your baby is eating in a given week, and periodically review their intake to make sure there aren’t any gaps in their nutrition. Try to include a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins.
A common issue at this time of life is the baby not getting enough iron. Lots of the mushy foods that people like to start on, such as mashed fruits and vegetables, do not contain significant amounts of this mineral. It is all too easy for your baby to become anemic if they aren’t getting the iron they need from their diet.
To avoid issues like this, make sure that fortified grains are part of your baby’s diet along with protein foods. These foods do great work to fill in the gaps in your baby’s nutrition and are important to include in their diet as they grow up.
Feeling Overwhelmed is Completely Normal
When children begin to transition to solid foods, many parents feel overwhelmed. You’ll begin to navigate this milestone by slowly introducing new foods and noticing how your child responds.
Make sure that your child is trying a variety of foods, and you’ll be able to turn their natural curiosity into a robust, healthy diet.