As many new parents can attest, a new baby brings with it many mysteries. Considering children do not come with instruction manuals, it’s up to Mom and Dad to learn the ropes through trial and error and with some advice from pediatricians, friends and relatives.
One error new parents commonly make is introducing solid foods to their infants before the tots are ready. The AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics and Health Canada now recommend infants should not start solid foods until age six months. Breast milk or infant formula should be the food of choice for infants younger than six months.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity surveyed 1,334 women before they gave birth, and nearly every month during the first year of the child’s life. Mothers were asked to report feeding habits. Forty percent of mothers gave their babies solid foods prior to age four months. The most common reason for giving the food was the mothers believed the baby was old enough to begin eating solid foods. Mothers also said that the baby seemed hungry a lot and was not satiated by breast milk or formula alone. More than 50 percent of mothers in the study responded that a doctor told them the baby could start solid food before four months old.
Children who are introduced to solid foods too early may not be developmentally ready to accept these foods. Studies also have linked the early introduction of solid foods with an increased risk of chronic diseases, such as obesity and eczema, later in life. Babies also may not be physically able to move their tongues and swallow properly to handle solid foods. Here are some guidelines for knowing when and how to introduce solid foods to a baby’s diet.
* Recognize readiness signs. Signs that your child is ready for solid foods include the ability to sit up and lean forward, good head control, the ability to pick up food and try to put it in his or her mouth and the ability to turn his or her head away to indicate fullness. If the baby watches you while eat and seems interested in your food, this may also indicate a readiness for solid food.
* Adhere to the recommended guidelines. Breast milk and formula are nutritionally sound food sources for growing babies. Introducing complementary foods too early can lead to nutrient deficiency.
* Begin with one food at a time. Most pediatricians recommend starting out with iron-fortified cereals as the first solid foods because they’re least likely to cause an allergic reaction. These cereals can be diluted with milk or formula to make them more palatable. Others prefer to start with an iron-rich vegetable. Good starter vegetables include sweet potatoes, squash and peas. Before adding any more solid foods, stick with the initial food for at least one week or more to determine if the child can tolerate the food.
* Pay attention for signs of allergies. Rashes, wheezing, gas, fussiness, vomiting, and diarrhea could be indicative of a food allergy. If your child exhibits such symptoms, stop giving him or her the food and consult your pediatrician. Wait until your baby is at least one year of age before introducing foods that commonly cause allergies, including citrus foods, shellfish, nuts, and egg whites.
* Avoid honey. Honey can contain life-threatening botulism. It should be kept off the menu until your child reaches his or her first birthday. Many parents wait until a child becomes a toddler before introducing honey.
Introducing solid foods to infants should only be done when the child is developmentally ready.