According to the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), exclusive breastfeeding should take place for the first six months of a child’s life, as they deem this is the most optimal way of feeding and infant. From that point, the recommendation is that infants should begin receiving solid foods while breastfeeding is continued up to two years of age.
I don’t know any mothers that can breast feed their children up to two years of age, but if their situation allows that, and they’re comfortable with it, I see no problem.
So we have a general guideline here, that at about six months of age (or even 4 to 6 months), parents should begin to feed their child solid foods. But where do parents go from there? What foods are appropriate to begin introducing to your child, and at what ages? Stick with me here, and I’ll give you the basics.
Why Six Months?
Frankly, children don’t need solid foods before the age of six months. They’re getting all the nutrition they need from breast milk, and if they’re being bottle fed, their formula is fortified with the nutrition they need as well. Removing them from the breast or the bottle before six months could be detrimental to their nutritional needs. Food allergies also come into play here. A Professor and Chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Duke University Medical Center, Dr. Wesley Burks, states that babies that are exclusively breast fed for more than four months, and don’t have solids introduced to their diets until between the ages of four and six months, are in the best position to escape the onset of food allergies. On the other hand, waiting too long to introduce solid foods, perhaps from the 9 to 12 month of age range, could result in them not adapting well to solid food.
There are some recommendations as well that suggest that iron rich foods be among the first solids that you introduce to your baby. This is because at around the six months of age, their own natural stores of iron begin to deplete and need to be replenished. Having said that, don’t be too quick to jump to things like rice cereals as the first thing that you introduce to them. Especially if they are processed, as most processed foods lack any nutritional benefits. Even if the cereals are fortified with iron, they may not be the best thing for your baby’s tummy, as iron can be very hard on the stomach. You’re better off to supplement their iron from a natural source that can be readily absorbed.
Vegetables before Fruit?
Some mothers feel that they should be introducing vegetables into their baby’s diet before introducing fruit, but there’s no medical rationale behind this. Dr. Jack Newman, of the Royal College of Physicians And Surgeons of Canada, points out that breast milk is far sweeter than fruit, so there’s no reason to think that giving and infant vegetables before fruit will lead them to accept vegetables easier.
Homemade or Store Bought Baby Food?
If you have the time, and a food processor, making your own baby food is the far healthier choice. Anything store bought is going to have preservatives to extend shelf life. It’s also going to have unnecessary salt and sugar. Plus a list of other unpronounceable chemicals. It’s like infant fast food. So choose healthy foods such as meat and vegetables and prepare them yourself at home. As we mentioned earlier, make sure that you provide your child with necessary iron, and they’ll certainly get this if you introduce meat into their diet — whether you purée it, or give them tiny pieces to gnaw on.
Your Baby’s First Foods
If you’re unsure of what types of foods to be introducing to your child once they hit the 4 to 6 six months age range, here’s a quick list, divided out by food types:
- Cooked broccoli or cauliflower — florets only
- Cooked stringless green beans.
- Raw grated carrots or cooked carrots
- French fry cut, cooked potato
- Peeled and cored apples or pairs
- Chunks of banana or ripe avocado
- Chunks of melon
- Section of orange — seeds removed
- Any small amount of meat on a safe bone
- Fingers of baked or grilled kidney or liver.
- Homemade fish sticks or fish cakes.
- Boneless, flaked cooked fish
Bread & Pasta
- High fiber bread.
- Toast — plain or lightly buttered
- Boiled, cooled pasta
Dairy & Eggs
- Hard boiled eggs — cooled — whole egg, or yoke only
- Slices of cheese, or grated cheese
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the foods that your baby can eat, but it’s enough to get you started. Foods to be avoided are foods like whole nuts which can be a choking hazard.
At 12 Months of Age
Whether or not you’re still breast feeding your child at 12 months of age, they should by now be eating foods from all the food groups. And in case you’ve been living under a rock, the five food groups are generally fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy products. From the above five food groups your best choices are lots of fresh fruit and vegetable, whole grain cereals and breads, lean meats as well as fish and poultry, and a variety of milk, cheese, and yogurt products.
Making the transition from the breast milk or formula doesn’t have to be a minefield. Use some common sense, pay attention to how your baby reacts to certain foods, watch portion sizes, and be aware of things they can choke on.