Baby’s First Food
On the other hand, it’s the first step toward developing a child’s healthy relationship with food, which means parents will fret over whether their baby is getting enough nutrients. They’ll spend many hours on their knees picking up Cheerios and cleaning butternut squash off the floor. Their patience and resolve will be tested as they agonize over balancing what their child will eat against what’s nutritious. The process can go from exciting to dreadful fast.
“I had this kid who would eat anything, and all of a sudden he stopped eating. Here I was making these purees by hand and he just knocks it all over the place. I thought, why do I even bother?” says Jennifer Rose-Milleson, a San Francisco mother to 1-year-old Ben.
Rose-Milleson had waited until Ben was 6 months old to try solids, believing breast milk was more important. She now regrets that, wishing she started earlier since her son seems resistant to chunkier textures.
Not that long ago, doctors recommended going slow with solids, just as Rose-Milleson did. Now, pediatricians believe parents of healthy infants should start closer to four months and not worry about waiting several days before introducing a baby to each new food. It’s more important to pay attention to texture and variety, and to establish a positive environment. That means feeding babies what they like and paying attention to their signals.
“Your job is to provide the healthy choices. It’s the child’s job to decide what and how much of what’s served to eat,” says East Bay resident Jill West, a Bay Area Parent columnist, registered dietician and author of the book 400 Moms: Discover What 400 Nutrition Experts Feed Their Kids.
Your baby is ready for solids if she is sitting and holding her head up, seems interested in food you’re eating and is between four to six months old. Around that age, babies begin developing the coordination to move solid food from the front of the mouth to the back for swallowing, West says. It’s important to remember that eating solids initially is not about nutrition, but developing muscles in the mouth and getting the child used to the process, according to Debra Barra-Stevens, M.D., a Palo Alto Medical Foundation pediatrician based in Burlingame.
Babies should still be fed formula or breast milk primarily. Parents should introduce smooth, pureed foods, such as banana, avocado or squash at first. As the child progresses, items can become chunkier, and you can combine flavors. &pagebreaking&Embrace the Mess
Feedings should be relaxed and fun, something the whole family looks forward to, says Barra-Stevens. Dieticians and feeding experts stress the importance of giving babies control over what and how much they eat. Avoid making funny faces or bribing children with games, tricks or sweets to get them to eat more. And let them explore their food. Yes, it’s messy, but they need to experiment.
“It is going to be more than a feeding process. It’s interaction. It’s stimulation. It’s a whole body experience. It’s going to get thrown and smeared,” Barra-Stevens says. “You should enjoy the fact that they are exploring. If parents aren’t afraid of the mess, then food will take on a much more positive experience in life.”
Try to avoid getting frustrated, although that might be the toughest part of the process. Like Rose-Milleson’s son, children will like some parts of the experience, but dislike others. It’s not uncommon for a child to favor something one day and spit it out the next. That’s OK. Let them take control and decide what they’ll eat, West says. Routinely turning mealtime into a battle will only set the child up for having a negative experience with food.
“We really need to learn from our kids. They eat when they are hungry, and they don’t eat when they are not hungry,” says Barra-Stevens, noting that parents rarely ever win the war over food. “If you know what they are eating is healthy, then don’t worry.”
If your baby doesn’t seem ready for solids – for instance, he spits the food out, cries or turns his head away after several attempts – then stop and try again in a few days or weeks, West suggests. If your baby has diarrhea or gas, vomits after eating, develops a rash or has a severe aversion to eating, consult your pediatrician.
As far as what to start with – sweet or savory – West and Barra-Stevens both say that it doesn’t matter. Begin with something you think your child will like. Then, keep introducing new flavors and textures. The child might spit something out initially, but after being exposed to it several times, she may start to like it.
“There will be phases where kids refuse foods that they used to eat. If we don’t keep retrying, they don’t have the opportunity to like it,” West says.
Rose-Milleson says she’s doing just that. For her son’s first birthday, she placed a cupcake in front of him.
“He wanted nothing to do with it at first,” she says. Eventually, he ended up with blue frosting all over his face.
Jennifer Aquino is a freelance writer in the Bay Area