While introducing your baby to solids is an exciting rite of passage, it can also bring a lot of uncertainty, especially for first-time parents. Whether the conversations are taking place in a mommy group or on a message board, many parents circle around those age-old questions about how to give baby the best start possible:
- "When do I know when my little one is ready?"
- "Which foods are best to start with?"
- "And what about food allergies?"
As the science and baby food landscape continue to evolve, parents can find that even between their first and second babies, the answers and available food options have changed. But let's start with some basics: according to the USDA, during the first year of baby's life he transitions from being able to only suck and swallow to being able to hold his head up independently and chew more textured foods. On the inside, your precious little one's digestive tract also undergoes changes as it matures—at first taking in only breast milk or formula, but soon digesting a wide variety of foods. While most babies begin eating solid foods between 4 and 6 months old, every child is different. So talk with your pediatrician and look for signs of readiness in your own baby to make sure he or she is truly ready for the spoon.
To help you have confidence and enjoy this exciting time of transition, here are some common myths many parents ask me about, along with what the latest science suggests.
Myth: If my baby grabs my plate or tries to touch food, it means he or she is ready to start eating solid foods.
Fact: A perked-up interest in food may or may not indicate readiness. A better strategy is to watch your baby's development for a cluster of behaviors that offers a more reliable signal your baby may be ready:
- Your baby can sit upright without being held.
- Your baby opens his/her mouth when offered food.
- Your baby begins to notice and express interest when you are eating.
- When full, your baby will turn away or lean back to show that he/she doesn't want to eat more.
- Your baby reaches out, grasps for things and brings them up to his/her mouth.
Myth: Offering my baby fruits before vegetables will give my baby a permanent sweet tooth.
Fact: Strained single fruits or vegetables are both wonderful first food options because they provide babies with an important array of vitamins and minerals that support healthy development. What's more important than "which" fruit or vegetable is to be sure to continue to offer your child a wide array of nutritious foods that have a broad range of tastes and flavors. It's also a good idea to offer an iron-rich option as one of baby's first foods. That's because between the ages of 6 to 9 months, a baby's own iron stores may naturally decrease. You could choose a iron-fortified cereal, such as rice, oatmeal or even quinoa; alternately, you could offer finely milled meats, poultry and even fish. Yogurt is also a great early food because it contains calcium and protein. Be sure to add new foods one at a time and wait a few days before introducing more foods to watch for potential signs of food sensitivity or allergic reaction. And choose organic options, such as Earth's Best Organic® 1st Bananas or Earth's Best Organic® 1st Carrots, to minimize potentially harmful exposure to synthetic pesticides during this important time of growth and development.
Myth: It's best to avoid foods that may cause a potential food allergy to keep my child safe.
Fact: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its guidelines in February 2013. It now says foods considered highly allergenic, such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish, can be safely introduced to most healthy children between 4 and 6 months of age, with the exception of whole cow's milk, which should be avoided until after 1 year of age. Babies can't digest milk protein until their gastrointestinal tract has fully developed. No conclusive evidence exists that delaying the introduction of highly allergenic foods decreases the risk of food allergies. In fact, growing evidence suggests delaying these foods might actually increase the risk of a food allergy. Talk with your pediatrician about your own family history and when you can safely welcome these foods onto your baby's high chair.
Kate Geagan, award-winning nutritionist and expert for Earth's Best, has been coined "America's Green Nutritionist." She is the author of "Go Green Get Lean: Trim Your Waistline with the Ultimate Low-Carbon Footprint Diet" (Rodale). Kate's expertise has been shared on Dr. Oz, Katie Couric and Access Hollywood.