Without a doubt, one of the best parts of being a pediatrician is helping parents learn how to take care of a new baby. At Westchester Health, we love it when our parents, especially first-time ones, come to us with questions. Some of the most common ones are: How often should we change the baby’s diaper? What’s the right way to hold her? What do we do when he’s colicky?
We also get a lot of questions about feeding, such as how long to breastfeed, when to introduce solid food, and how to recognize if your baby has a food allergy. Recognizing that these are questions many parents have, we put together this blog as a way to share this information more broadly.
How to know when to introduce solid foods
The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the World Health Organization, advises that infants should be breastfed exclusively from birth until 6 months of age. At WHP, we understand that not all babies can be breastfed and in those cases, formula is certainly acceptable.
According to healthychildren.org, babies are ready for non-milk food sources (commonly oatmeal, rice or barley cereal) when they:
- Can hold their head up. He/she should be able to sit in a high chair, a feeding seat or an infant seat with good head control.
- Open their mouth when food is offered. Your baby may be signaling he/she is ready for food when he/she reaches for your food and seems eager to be fed.
- Can move food from a spoon into their throat. If you offer babies a spoon of rice cereal and they push it out of their mouth and it dribbles onto their chin, they may not yet have the ability to move the cereal to the back of their mouth to swallow it. Remember, they’ve never had anything thicker than breast milk or formula before, so solid foods may take some getting used to. Try diluting it the first few times, then gradually thicken the texture. You can also wait a week or two and try again.
- Are big enough. Generally, when infants double their birth weight (typically at about 4 months of age) and weigh approximately 13 pounds or more, they are ready for solid foods.
Good rule of thumb: Check with your pediatrician first to find out if your baby is ready to start solid foods.
It’s no longer recommended to avoid foods that might be food allergens
New research proves that introducing foods typically associated with food allergies (especially peanuts) around 6 months of age can actually help prevent food allergies. Our pediatric allergy, asthma and immunology specialist, James A. Pollowitz, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI, has written a very informative blog on these recent findings, which you can read here.
4 tips for introducing new foods to your baby
According to Gerber.com, babies may need to try a new food up to 10 times before they like it. Persistence on your part is key! Our advice is to keep introducing new foods, tastes and consistencies, remembering that at this stage, breastmilk and formula are still your baby’s main source of nutrition. At WHP, what we have found with our parents is that continually offering your child new flavors and textures will eventually expand their tastes and acceptance of new foods, making mealtime more enjoyable for both of you.
Here are some tips that can help the process along:
- As far as which to offer first, fruits or vegetables, there’s no hard and fast rule. Do what feels right for you and your baby and what he/she seems to respond to best.
- If you’re using baby food from a pouch, squeeze it into a bowl or onto a spoon before feeding it to your baby.
- Growth spurts will determine your baby’s hunger. Don’t get discouraged when one week he/she is eating a lot and the next week, not so much.
- Offer a wide variety of foods so your child can experience different tastes. Down the road, this will help him/her be more accepting of new foods when transitioning into a toddler and adolescent.
Avoid these choking hazards
Do not give your baby foods that are known choking hazards until at least 4 years of age or older. These hazards include:
- whole grapes
- hot dogs
- chunks of meat or poultry
- spoonfuls of peanut butter
- raw fruits and vegetables including raw carrots and apples with skin
- chewing gum
- hard candy including M&Ms
Recognizing a food allergy
If your child is allergic to a certain food, symptoms may occur within minutes of eating a particular food or they may not appear for hours or even days. Allow about three days between new foods to watch for any possible allergic reactions.
Symptoms to watch for:
- skin rash
If any of these symptoms occur, stop feeding the new food and contact your pediatrician.
At Westchester Health, we do not recommend giving juice to babies
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no fruit juice in a child’s first year of life. At WHP, we agree. Juice offers no nutritional benefits early in life and can actually take the place of what babies need: breast milk (or formula), protein, fat and minerals such as calcium. In addition, not only does fruit juice lack nutrition for babies and children, its high sugar content can promote tooth decay.
The healthiest beverages for your child to drink are water and milk. Water is important for adequate hydration, and milk offers fat and calcium, both important for growing children. We have written a blog on this topic which you can read here.
We also support baby-led weaning
In the U.S., “weaning” means the cessation of breastfeeding. In other countries, however, weaning refers to the introduction of foods other than breast milk or formula. As mentioned above, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the World Health Organization, advises that infants should be breastfed exclusively from birth until 6 months of age. Other foods can be introduced after that. Read our blog about baby-led weaning here.
You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.
At any age, count on the pediatricians of Westchester Health and Northwell Physician Partners for vital information to help you raise happy, healthy kids. Whether you’re raising teenagers, adolescents, toddlers or newborns, we’ve got years of experience helping parents take care of their children and we’re ready to help you with yours. Please call us at (914) 228-0330.
Want to know more about introducing new foods to your infant? Come see us
Knowing when and how to transition your baby from either breast milk or formula to solid foods can raise a lot of questions and uncertainty. We understand, we’re parents too. For information, guidance and support, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment to see one of our Westchester Health pediatricians. We’ll share our years of experience with you and take as much time as needed to answer all your questions. Most of all, we want to help you raise a happy, healthy child and feel confident as a parent. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
By Cindee J. Ivker, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners