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When Is Your Baby Ready To... (Food)
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- ...Try Finger Foods?
Around 9 months, when he's developed his pincer grasp. Does your crawler love to put anything and everything in his mouth? Take this as a sign you can break out the Cheerios. "Babies are usually ready when you see them picking things up with their thumbs and pointer fingers," explains Daniel Miner, M.D., a Levittown, New York, pediatrician at ProKids, LLP.
"Now they are ready to take an active role in their feeding." Some of the best first finger foods to try are soft, ripe pieces of fruit and well-cooked vegetables, soft pasta, and, yes, Cheerios (they're just the right size and dissolve in his mouth). To prevent choking, it all has to be diced into quarter-inch cubes or needle-size slivers. Or spring for the pre-diced, bite-size foods in the baby-food aisle. They'll be called something like "pickups," "dices," or "table-teaching."
- ...Try Peanut Butter?
At 2 years, spread thinly. But if you or your husband or any of your child's siblings has a peanut allergy, or if there's a strong family history of allergies in general, hold off until age 3. And in either case, don't let your child eat spoonfuls of it. A gob of peanut butter can be a choking hazard.
- ...Drink Water?
Your baby gets enough water from breast milk or formula. Water fills him up so he drinks less of the formula or breastmilk he needs. Explain this to your mom when she insists that the baby must be thirsty. If it's a scorcher of a day, you can always give him extra breast milk or formula. When your baby is ready for solids, between 4 and 6 months, you can let him drink a little water, but limit it to 4 ounces a day. Don't force it. When he's ill, he may need extra water; consult your pediatrician in that case.
- ...Start Cereal?
Four to six months of age. By that time, most babies have outgrown the tongue-thrust reflex that makes it easy for them to nurse, but hard to swallow solids. (Makes you wonder how your mother-in-law was getting that steak down your husband's gullet at 2 months, eh?) So if your baby is in that age bracket, and seems unsatisfied with her nursing routine or is sucking down over 32 ounces of formula a day, your little eater is probably ready to try cereal.
"I look at cereal as being the bread you eat before dinner," says Daniel Miner, M.D., a Levittown, New York pediatrician at ProKids, LLP. "Nutritionally, solid food isn't necessary until after six months, but cereal can be a great filler." Your pediatrician will probably advise starting with an iron-fortified rice cereal, though some recommend jarred fruit or veggies as the first bites. Whatever you settle on, don't be surprised if your baby seems less than thrilled. It's a rare baby who eats more than a few tiny spoonfuls on the first go. It'll help if you bring on the mush for the first time when he isn't all that hungry. A famished baby expecting a bottle and getting a spoon thrust in his face is not going to be happy!
- ...Start Transitioning from a Bottle to a Sippy Cup?
As soon as your baby can sit up well on her own. Look for a first cup that's easy to grab, and has a weighted bottom and a soft, nipple-like tip (like The First Sipster from Playtex). The AAP recommends that ba-bas be gone for good after the first birthday. Easier said than done. (A bunch of us on staff had kids over two still clutching bottles like their little lives depended on it.) But there are ways to make it a non-event, whenever it happens. Start by reserving the bottle only for those times of day that your child is most attached to it (usually before bedtime) and gradually work down from there. And putting formula or breast milk in the sippy teaches your baby that those drinks don't just come from a nipple.
- ...Try Something New Without Fear of Allergies?
There's a long list of potential allergens, including dairy, egg whites, and nuts. But it's hard to know whether those of us without a family history of allergies should be concerned.
What you need to know: Your baby can eat most foods after his first birthday. The exceptions:
Nuts Many doctors think kids shouldn't eat foods with peanuts or tree nuts, like almonds, cashews, or walnuts, until they're 3. The earlier they're introduced, the more likely these foods are to become lifelong allergens for some kids. But if your toddler has already had a PB&J sandwich a few times and has not had any reaction, you're in the clear, says Dr. Brown.
Dairy foods Processed products like cottage cheese, yogurt, and cheese (all made with whole milk) are okay by 6 months. Just hold off on cow's milk until he's 1. Your baby's still-developing digestive system would have a hard time processing the volume of milk he'd consume, compared to the smaller amounts of yogurt or cheese.
Strawberries Raw ones can cause some babies to break out in a rash, so if you're concerned, feed yours cooked berries until he's a year old.
- ...Chew Crackers, Bagels, and Other Breads?
Which of them are choking hazards for an infant with few teeth?
What you need to know: "By nine months or a bit sooner, a baby is able to try all bready foods, as long as parents keep a close watch," says Dr. Roche. The number of teeth babies have really has no bearing on their ability to chew; gums are mighty strong on their own.
- ...Try a Piece of Sushi?
With all the stories about food poisoning, you'd think raw fish is something to keep away from your baby until grade school.
What you need to know: You can introduce sushi after your child's first birthday. "It's true that with raw fish, you're running a risk of food-borne parasites," says Dr. Brown. "But you can catch one of those at a salad bar. Just make sure to go to a restaurant with a good reputation. My kids have had sushi for years."
The biggest concern about sushi is mercury contamination. Doctors urge pregnant women and kids under 8 to stay away from albacore (white) tuna (but canned light tuna is okay), shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish -- all of which have extremely high levels.