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When is Your Baby Ready To...

...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!

...Ditch the Baby Bath Tub? And Bath Seat?
Once your baby is sitting up on his own, you're ready to leave the baby bathtub behind. (Hallelujah! The day that thing leaves the kitchen counter for good is a happy one indeed.) But now you'll need something to help you wash her in the big tub. It's just too awkward (and back breaking) to try to hold her with one hand and wash her up with the other. It's fun to hop in yourself and scrub down together once in a while, but not at every bath. So a bath seat really comes in handy, as long as you get that it's not a safety device. It is only a tool that makes it a little easier to wash your baby. No matter how comfy he looks in it, do not leave his side even for as long as it takes to grab a tissue. And fill the tub with as little water as possible?you only need about an inch to clean your baby and let him splash. When he starts trying to wiggle out of the bath seat?or it's suddenly a tight squeeze?it's time to toss that too. Just be sure to down a non-skid mat, decals, or even just a towel to prevent slips in the tub.

...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.

...Fly on a Plane?
After the first month. In general, doctors like babies to be at least a month old before they fly to Grandma's house. The main reasons? Mom needs to recuperate and baby needs time to adjust to life outside the womb in her home environment. But if there is a compelling reason you need to fly with a newborn younger than that (like you're bringing home an adopted baby), go ahead. Our tip: book an aisle seat (easy in and out) in the front of the plane (less noisy). Offer a paci, bottle, or breast. The sucking/swallowing action will ease the ear pain that often bothers babies on take off and landing. And at least your baby's age is on your side: if it's a short flight, he'll probably sleep the whole time.

...Have her Clothes Washed with Everyone Else's?
Now! You don't need to wash a baby's clothes separately, once you've washed them that first time before wearing. As long as you're using a dye and fragrance-free detergent, toss them in with the rest of the family's. The only exception we can think of is if your husband does something out of that show "Dirty Jobs" and his clothes are really muddy. But even in that case, you can still wash your baby's clothes with yours.

...Go in a Swimming Pool?
6 months of age. Yes, even if it's hot, and that teeny ruffled bathing suit you bought is too cute for words. But if she's younger than that, the water's not so fine. It's not the chlorine that's the problem. It's the temperature of the water, which is probably too cold for a newborn (even if it's heated), since they haven't yet developed the
ability to regulate their body temperature. Besides which, as pristine as the water looks, there's still bacteria lurking there. Newborns are more vulnerable to bacteria in general.

...Wear Sunscreen?
Now!  For years we've heard babies younger than 6 months shouldn't wear sunscreen: they should just be kept out of the sun. Which is, of course, unrealistic. The AAP recently changed that stance and now recommends sunscreen for tots of all ages as there hasn't been any evidence of negative long-term effects on infants younger than 6 months using it. Look for a baby formulation that has the words "broad spectrum" on the label, meaning it protects from UVA and UVB rays. And remember that sunscreen isn't a license to keep your baby on the beach for hours on end. Put a sunhat on her, seek shade, and use common sense.