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Ask Dr. Sears: Feeding Schedule for Solids

Q  I am a little confused about my 4-month-old's eating schedule. My doctor told me to start him on rice and vegetables when I thought he was ready. I think he's ready, but I am not sure about the amounts and times. Right now, he has 6oz. of formula every 3 hours. I know I should continue giving him at least 30oz. of formula a day. Could you please tell me what a typical feeding schedule might be? How much and how many times a day should I be feeding him solids?

A: Whatever feeding schedule gets the most food into your baby with the least amount of hassles is the right one for you and your baby. Remember, feeding your baby is a social interaction, not just delivery of food. So, you want to help this special time be more fun and less mess. Try these solid-food strategies.

When to start solids

With new insights into infant development, it's best to wait until around six months to begin solids. At that time your baby's intestines have become more mature, so that allergies and intolerances to solid foods are less likely to occur. Also, around six months, the tongue-thrust reflex—which causes food to be spit out rather than swallowed—diminishes. Lastly, teeth appear around six months. So, if your baby is not happy about solids at four months, wait a month or two and try again. All his nutritional needs can be met by the infant formula (figure approximately two ounces of formula per pound of baby's weight).

Try favorite first foods

Favorite first foods for most babies include mashed banana, pears, avocado, squash, sweet potato, applesauce and rice cereal. With our own children, we found that a mashed, ripe banana was a favorite starter solid. Place a test dose dab of banana on your fingertip and place it on your baby's tongue. If the food goes in accompanied by an approving smile, you know baby is ready and willing.

How much to feed

If the fingertip test works, gradually increase to a teaspoon, then a tablespoon. As a general guide for feeding solids at all ages, babies do better with the concept of grazing—small, frequent feedings spaced throughout the day. Your baby's tummy is the size of his fist, so it is unlikely that your baby will eat more than one fistful of food at one sitting. Don't expect a six-month-old to take more than a tablespoon of solid food at one feeding. Since your baby is used to swallowing milk, begin with solids that have a soupy consistency and gradually progress to pasty consistencies, and then to lumpy consistencies. Always keep in mind that your initial goal is to introduce your baby to the taste and texture of new foods, not to fill him up.

When to feed

The term "feeding schedule" varies greatly according to the temperament of your baby and the time management of the caregiver. There is some merit to putting baby on a predictable feeding schedule. Offer solids at the time of the day when your baby seems the hungriest and you have the most time. Mornings are usually the time when most formula-fed babies eat the most. Late afternoon is usually the favorite solid-food time for breastfed babies, since that's the time of the day when some mothers notice their milk supply is diminished. It makes no difference whether you give him fruits or vegetables for lunch, breakfast or dinner. Again, keep in mind that grazing is the buzzword for infant feeding. Feeding too much, too frequently is likely to lead to abdominal discomfort and constipation.

Shape young tastes

These are the three magic words of infant feeding. Make your own baby food as much as possible from fresh fruits and vegetables. That way you shape your infant's tastes toward what fresh food is supposed to taste like. This is the earliest way to program him against the taste of junk food later on. I have noticed in our pediatric practice a group of moms I dub "pure moms"—those who don't let their babies eat any processed, canned or jarred foods pass the lips of their babies for the first couple of years. I have observed that these children tend to grow up with much healthier eating habits and tend to appreciate fruits and vegetables and the fresh taste of healthy foods.

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