Infancy is a time of rapid development and growth. If we were to keep up with your baby’s rate of weight gain as adults, we would need to gain about 2 to 3 pounds per day! Besides supporting their growing bodies, good nutrition during the first year will impact good bone and brain health for the REST of your baby’s life!
For the first 4-6 months of life, babies get calories and nutrition from breast milk or formula. After that, they are usually ready to start trying new foods.
The big question is how do we successfully introduce foods to our growing infants? How do we get them to safely eat and accept new foods and also meet their nutritional needs? Here are a few suggestions to help ensure new foods are a fun experience for everyone.
- Make sure your baby is ready to start new foods. If you start foods too early, your baby could experience food aversions (difficulty accepting foods), or he could choke and inhale food into his lungs. This is very dangerous! Your infant will let you know when he is ready to start new foods. Signs that your baby is ready to start trying foods:
Introduce one “single ingredient” food at a time. Giving only one food at a time will give your baby a chance to accept new flavors and textures. This also helps you identify any food allergies your baby may have.
Choose first foods that give good nutrition like protein, iron, and other good vitamins and minerals. Iron fortified cereal is a great starter. At 6-8 months, you could also introduce pureed meats or beans.
Introduce a variety of foods within the 1st year. Studies have shown that children who have limited food exposure to foods by 10 months of age are more likely to be picky eaters later in life. Stick to the one “single ingredient” food rule, but try to give your baby a variety of foods including fruits, veggies, and meats.
Do not give any cow’s milk during first year of life. The proteins in milk are not safe or healthy for your baby in the first year. After your baby is one, provide pasteurized whole milk to help support appropriate growth.
Keep calcium and vitamin D intake high. These two nutrients are important to make sure your baby’s bones develop appropriately. Poor nutrition at this stage can increase your child’s risk for bone fractures and osteoporosis. Even breastfeeding babies could use some extra vitamin D. Chat with your doctor if you are worried about your child’s intake.
Don’t give fruit juice, concentrated sugar, or processed foods for your baby’s first 6 months. Exposing your child to these foods early can cause lower intake of important foods, like milk or formula, which are important for growth. Extra sugar is not a great idea.
Keep food safe. Food safety is especially important for your little ones as their immune systems are still getting up to full strength. They are less able to fight off food borne illnesses, and they could get very sick from food poisoning.
Watch Baby’s growth. The most important measurement to determine if your baby is getting enough is to make sure that she continues to gain weight and increases in height proportionately for her age. Your doctor can determine this by charting his weight and length on a growth chart. If your baby isn’t growing, you may need to look into other food options and follow up with a dietitian and/or your doctor.
Be patient and have fun! Food is supposed to be a good experience for your baby. He will be messy, and it will take time for him to have good coordination with foods. As he continues to develop, table manners will get better.
- Your baby can sit/support his own weight
- Your baby can move tongue in and out of mouth. This is a sign she has good reflexes for eating
- Your baby show’s an appetite/desire for food (opening mouth or leaning towards food)
Your patience and diligence with your baby during these initial exposures to food will help improve the likelihood that your baby will accept more foods later. It gives him a chance to work on motor skills and coordination. Plus, it can be another great bonding experience between you and your baby.