A full-term, healthy baby who is breast-fed or fed a formula adequately supplemented with vitamins and minerals has no nutritional requirements other than milk for the first 4 to 6 months of life. There is no magic age at which it is `just right’ to introduce solid foods: some babies are ready and eager at 5 months, some not till 8 or 9 months. He or she will let you know!
In fact there is considerable evidence that feeding of solids before 4-6 months is undesirable. Early introduction of solids may, for example, encourage overfeeding and result in obesity. Even more importantly, the introduction of gluten to a sensitive child may precipitate coeliac disease at an earlier age and it is therefore recommended that gluten-containing foods not be given before 6 months of age. (These include, commercial baby cereals, all bread made with wheat or rye flour, most breakfast cereals, biscuits, cakes, custard powder, pastas, canned and packet soups where wheat flour is used as a thickener, malt and milk additives such as Milo and Ovaltine.)
Introduce one food at a time with at least five days between so that you will know which food caused any allergy that develops. Try starting with a taste, say 1-2 teaspoons, then gradually build up to 1-2 tablespoons after a couple of weeks.
Once they are about 8 months old (sometimes earlier), most babies are eating solid foods three times a day.
Don’t keep spoon-feeding your baby for too long just to avoid mess – allow him or her to start using a spoon or fingers when he or she is ready. This will prevent your baby eating more than he or she really needs or wants, which can happen when an eager Mum or Dad is spooning food in!
COMMERCIAL BABY FOODS
While commercial baby foods have improved dramatically in quality in recent years it is best to limit their use for a number of reasons.
# You know exactly what is in the food you prepare yourself. No additives, no sugar, no salt, no vegetable gums, no food acids.
# Prepared baby foods taste very similar and have a smooth texture, and if babies are fed such foods too often it can make them reluctant to try new `real’ food. Eating soft food that is not chewed with gums or teeth can cause dental problems in later childhood.
Cooking your own food and keeping prepared foods for emergencies or outings makes good sense.
Don’t force-feed or continue trying to encourage your baby to eat if it is clear that he or she doesn’t want it.
FIRST SOLIDS: A CHECKLIST
If you wait until your baby is 6 months old before you introduce solid food there is no absolute rule about which food is best to start on. Fruit is good, I think, because it is very easy for mothers, and babies really enjoy the natural sweetness and soft texture.
Rice cereal comes next because it is more easily digested than wheat-based products. Yoghurt is introduced before whole cow’s milk for the same reason: most babies can handle straight cow’s milk by 9 months of age, so wait until then before using it.
The following is the order works well.
1. Mashed ripe banana.
2. Scraped or stewed apple.
3. First vegetable (pumpkin and sweet potato).
4. Rice cereal.
6. Other cereals.
7. Other vegetables and other fruits.
8. Egg yolk.
9. White meat (chicken and fish).
10. Organ meat (brains and liver).
11. ‘Red’ meat (veal, beef, lamb, rabbit and pork).