Expert Q&A: Meeting Your Baby's Nutrition Needs
An interview with pediatrician Stephen Parker, MD.
How can I tell when my baby’s ready for solid foods?
Even if the baby appears hungry and ready, we generally wait until at least four months to give solids. The best evidence right now is that the window for introducing solids is between 4 and 6 months of age. By then, we think babies are mature enough to deal with solid food -- meaning that they’re able to swallow it without risk of breathing it into the lungs, and to digest it.
If your baby is within that age range, the signs that he’s ready to get started include:
- He’s interested in your food
- He’s able to take food into his mouth and keep it there
- He’s able to swallow without spitting or sputtering
- He wants more and more milk and seems unsatisfied with milk alone
Why should babies start with single-grain cereals?
It’s rare for a baby to have an allergy to a single-grain cereal like rice cereal. These cereals are iron-fortified, and it’s also a bit of insurance to give a little more iron early on. Therefore, the first thing you give them is palatable, easy to digest, doesn’t cause allergies, and gets the show on the road. But if parents asked me why they couldn’t start with fruit, I’d say that there’s no reason why you can’t.
The key is that you just start with one new food at a time, no matter what it is, and watch for problems. Pureed pears or squash, or mashed bananas or avocados, are other examples of good options. Except for highly allergenic foods, the digestive system can pretty much handle what comes its way by 4 to 6 months.
How much should parents feed their baby?
Your baby tells you. People don’t have enough faith in their baby’s capacity to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Occasionally a baby might stuff himself to discomfort when left to his own devices. But most babies, when you let them regulate their own intake, will take what they need and leave the rest. If they’re staying on the growth charts, and you think they’re not getting enough, you’re probably wrong and your baby’s right.
Does it matter if you give bottle or food first?
It doesn’t really matter. Many people give food first and then the milk as a chaser, especially before sleep, because the milk calms the baby down. Also, babies can regulate their milk intake based on what they’ve eaten. But it really doesn’t matter which comes first and which comes second.
What if your baby doesn’t like new foods?
That’s called “neophobia.” Many babies don’t like a food when it’s first introduced. It takes an average of three to four times trying a new food before they’ll take to it. That’s par for the course.
There are really picky babies, of course, but expect neophobia from most babies. Something they hate at 5 months, they may love at 8 months. Keep offering new foods gently and with good humor, and they’ll take to them eventually.