Feeding your baby solid foods for the first time is an exciting milestone. You just can’t wait to see what your little one will think of all the new tastes and textures.
But this stage of development can also be a confusing time for new parents. After all, the “rules” of starting solids seem to be forever changing. What’s the right age? Which foods are OK? And what about allergies? The answers aren’t always what you’d think.
If it feels overwhelming, you’re not alone. Starting solids is one of the most common issues that pediatricians address every day. To help clear up some of those questions, consider these six surprising facts from local pediatrician Dr. Neethi Patel with Shelby Pediatric Associates & Child Lung Center in Shelby Township and Troy.
1. There’s no ‘right’ age
It’s not critical to start feeding your baby solid foods at a certain age, Dr. Patel points out.
“There is a bit of a gray zone,” she says. “We know that starting solid foods prior to 4 months is of absolutely no benefit and no value, so we still encourage no solid foods until at least 4 months. We also know that you should start by 6 months.”
But between 4 and 6 months? That’s up to you, Dr. Patel explains.
“You need to know that your child is ready,” she says.
2. Your baby should show interest
Did you know your infant could be trying to tell you he’s ready for solids? If you’re in the “gray zone” and unsure if your baby should have solid food, watch him closely for readiness signs.
“Is he sitting up well, able to sit in a high chair without slumping over, able to look at food and look interested?” Dr. Patel notes. Lip-smacking motions are another clue.
3. The ‘first’ food doesn’t matter much
Should you start with avocado or pears? Banana or peas? The truth is it doesn’t necessarily matter, Dr. Patel says.
“There used to be a lot of stringent rules about what to start with,” she says, like opting for the least-allergenic foods to avoid reactions. “What we’ve found is that there’s not a lot of merit to that. Generally, there isn’t really a lot of importance with the order.”
Instead, just be sure to start with one food at a time, watching carefully for a reaction after each new food is introduced. For that reason, it’s helpful to avoid jarred “mixes” like peas and carrots and instead offer each vegetable individually, first.
4. Cereal isn’t required
Just as the first foods are totally negotiable, parents should know that cereal isn’t a must. Infants don’t need rice cereal or baby oatmeal in their diets, she says.
“Some people are concerned about the fact that cereals are not necessarily as natural, and for those parents, I say you don’t have to do cereal,” she says. “It’s OK to start with cereal and then move on to fruits and vegetables; it’s worked well for many people. But we do not feel that it must be cereal anymore.”
While some people believe cereal is needed since it’s iron-fortified, Dr. Patel points out that other sources of iron include red meats and eggs. “The key is variety,” she adds.
5. ‘Keep trying’ doesn’t always apply
Persistence isn’t really required when you’re just getting started with solid foods. If your baby is resistant after a try or two, just give it a break.
“Some babies get it really quick; some babies are not ready,” Dr. Patel explains. “For that child, you may want to stop and wait another week. Really listen to your baby. There’s no way to do this wrong. We want you to individualize it and customize it.”
6. You can try nuts, eggs anytime
The latest research suggests that earlier is better when introducing peanuts and other high-allergenic foods.
“Early introduction may be beneficial,” Dr. Patel says, but parents should talk to their pediatrician for advice specific to their child. “There’s no restrictions or rules that you must wait until this age to introduce this or that.”
Signs of a reaction include instant vomiting, any type of rash or hive-like inflammatory response, or any reaction that occurs within 15 to 20 minutes of trying a new food.
For more information on Shelby Pediatric Associates & Child Lung Center, visit shelbypediatricassociates.com.