Just when you have gotten good at figuring out how much and how often your baby needs to nurse or have a bottle, it is time to introduce solids. This doesn't mean the end of nursing and bottle feeding, your baby will continue to receive the bulk of their nourishment from the breast and/or bottle for quite a while yet. Whether you decide to introduce early (4 to 5 months) or wait as long as possible (1 year) the time will come (usually at about 6 or 8 months), when you will just have a feeling that it is the right time for you and your baby to take this big step. However, as soon as you make the decision, you may find yourself faced with a long list of questions, like: what food to give first and why, how long to wait in between introducing each food, what you should be watching out for, what to do if a food is rejected and what you can do to help avoid picky eating behaviors. Well, I may not have all of the answers you are looking for, but I do have a few tried and true tips that can make the whole process a lot easier.
1. Start bland, don't stay bland.
Nearly every pediatrician will recommend that you begin by introducing things like powdered rice or oat cereal prepared with breast milk or formula, because these grains are easy on the stomach, and the fluids will help maintain the flavor profiles that your baby is used to. You should consult your pediatrician at every step of introducing solids, since they will most likely be up to date on any new information about foods to avoid or to be extra cautious about giving based on any risks of E-Coli or other risk factors you might be unaware of. Which food to introduce after your baby is consistently taking the cereal is the cause for quite a bit of debate, I personally think that spices should come next. The benefits of introducing spices early on is that you will be able to pinpoint spice sensitivities more easily during the first few weeks of introducing solid food, and as you introduce more foods you will have the freedom to add a touch of seasoning to help keep your babies palette open and flexible, which can head off picky eating later on. Spices such as cumin, fennel, nutmeg and ginger are great because they soothe digestion as well as add a beautiful flavor to many fruits and veggies. Also, garlic, mint, and turmeric can help boost immunity and thyme and fennel can help sooth gas and relieve constipation. Another great benefit of including spices in your baby's food is that they almost all contain B vitamin complexes (that are associated with maintaining a positive mood) and calcium, fiber and iron (which we are always trying to get more of into our kids diets). Some major spices to steer clear of are cinnamon and celery which are both higher than average allergy risks (fresh celery is not as high a risk as the powdered spice version is), salt, and any hot spices, such as black pepper, cayenne and jalapenos.
2. Keep a log.
Tracking your baby's new foods is ultra-important, since introducing new foods properly is easier than you'd think to get confused about. Each new spice or food should be introduced, then given to your little taste-tester a few more times over the next three days. After the initial introduction, the new food can be mixed with the foods which your baby has already been introduced to during the three day waiting period (of course spices would be mixed with food on their very first introduction as well). Keeping track of what was given and when is crucial to this process, because if at any point your baby has a reaction, it will be simple for you to pin point the culprit and steer clear of it. Also, if your baby has a dangerous allergic reaction requiring hospitalization, the information about exactly what he has been eating will prove invaluable.
3. Watch for food sensitivities.
Food sensitivities are basically allergies that are mild and will most likely be outgrown. However sometimes these sensitivities can develop into serious, even life-threatening, allergies, so watching out for them and keeping track of them is a very good idea. Most food sensitivities will show up as hive-like bumps on your baby's face. Sometimes, however, the reaction might be stronger. It is not uncommon for babies with strong food sensitivities or allergies to projectile vomit, have acidic diarrhea and intense abdominal cramping and gas. Egg, Milk, Peanut, Tree nut, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy are the 8 most common food allergies, which is good to keep in mind not only while introducing foods, but while breastfeeding. None of these foods should be given to a baby who is under the age of one, unless you are directed to by your pediatrician. Now, There are soy, and milk based formulas, which are formulated to be gentle, but if you do try one of these be on the lookout for increased gas, cramping, diarrhea and spit-up. Any of these symptoms, if severe, could be an indication that your little snapdragon is allergic to the formula you are using.
4. Use your own favorite foods as blueprint.
If you love mashed potatoes, apples, asparagus or yams, introduce these foods first. If you were eating the foods that you are introducing to your baby while you were breastfeeding, it makes it considerably more likely that your sweet pea will be keen on trying them. It is important to keep the associations that your baby forms with the experience of trying new foods positive, and anything you can do to minimize the number of things that your baby needs to adjust to at each turn, the better. For example, if you love peas, and were eating peas fairly regularly while pregnant, they would be a food that your baby will very likely enjoy, and after experiencing that enjoyment she will be more receptive to new foods in the future.
5. Experiment with texture.
Some foods when pureed will be fairly thick, like mashed potatoes, and some will be quite watery, like pears. That is why when you are first offering your baby cereal, you should experiment with the texture to find the consistency your baby seems to like best. Many babies find a slightly thicker consistency (like the consistency of toothpaste) easier to manage, while some prefer a more soupy style that they can practically drink. The reason you'll want to know your baby's preferred consistency is so you can thicken up those pears with some rice cereal, or you can add some breast milk or formula to the mashed potatoes if he rejects them the first time. Sometimes a new flavor can be quite overwhelming on its own, if you can adjust the texture so that it is more familiar you increase your chances that your sweet little goober-cluster will chow down with enthusiasm.
Though this milestone will mark an end of a special time for you and your baby, it is also the first step into the wide and amazing world of delicious dining discoveries. Try to remember that your baby isn't "spitting it out", the first few times his food comes right back out, but the sucking motion automatically pushes his tongue forward, and until your yummy little peach-bottom figures out the oral gymnastics required for moving solids through his mouth, quite a bit of each new spoon full is bound to get shoved right back out. It won't take long before your baby learns to clamp his jaw shut at the approach of any undesirable food items, but even then, if there is no evidence of food sensitivity, reintroduce any rejected foods after a few weeks (One very gross but effective technique for introducing solids is described here). This is a fun and exciting time for your baby, try to have fun and allow yourself to go on the journey of discovery with him. If you have found these tips helpful, please pass them on to any new or expecting parents you know, and remember, questions and comments are always welcome. Happy parenting!