Good Foods for Babies

NOTE: This article is the second of a series about introducing solids and weaning. You may want to read the previous article first: When is the Best Time to Start My Baby on Foods Other Than Breastmilk? The final article in this series is: Thinking About Weaning?

As her baby approached his six month birthday, Joanna had lots of questions about starting her breastfed baby on other foods.

“Those jars of baby food are cute but so expensive. Besides, I would really prefer to feed my baby fresh food. Is it difficult to make your own baby food?"

It is very easy to make your own baby food and much cheaper, too. You do not even need special equipment, just a knife, fork and spoon.

“What are some good “starter” foods?”

Most babies like soft fruits and veggies. You can put tiny pieces of ripe banana on his tray, so he can pick them up and feed himself while you eat your dinner. Sweet potatoes are great for babies. Just scrub and prick the skin of the potato and bake it in the microwave until it is soft. After it has cooled down, you can throw away the skin and cut up the soft potato into little chunks.

“I have never heard of babies feeding themselves! I thought you had to feed them with little spoons!”

We used to think it was a good idea to start babies on solid foods when they were very young, maybe even just a few weeks old. Of course, babies that age could only eat pureed foods, which their mothers fed them with spoons. Now we know that babies are not ready for solid foods until they can sit up by themselves and use a pincer grasp with their fingers and thumbs. By that time, they can eat all kinds of things with only a little help from you. Your baby may like sitting in a high chair to eat, or he may prefer to sit on your lap or on the floor.

“Why do so many babies start with cereal?”

Cereal may be traditional, but it is not necessarily one of the best first foods. Iron-fortified rice cereal has been suggested as a first food in the past because of the belief that it was “hypoallergenic” and was a good source of iron. A review of research by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) finds those reasons to be invalid. 1 Newer thinking suggests beginning with foods that are naturally nutrient-rich. For example, meat is naturally rich in iron and zinc. In any case, breastfed babies usually get all the iron they need from their mother's milk up until at least six months of age. 2 If your doctor is concerned about iron levels, a simple blood test can be done right in the office.

“So what else could I feed my baby?”

Lots of things! Just make sure the food is soft enough not to catch in his throat and that it is cut into little pieces. So, for example, you will want to offer cooked, not raw, carrots, green beans, and peas.

  • Try ripe avocados, pears, peaches or apples – whatever is in season.
  • Beans can be mashed after the skins have been removed.
  • If you eat meat, you can offer little pieces of chicken or maybe a meaty leg bone (with that thin sliver of attached bone removed).
  • Tofu is an easy, soft food for a meat-free family with no soy allergies.
  • As he gets closer to a year, your baby may also like to gnaw on a heel of whole wheat bread or a piece of bagel.

“Are there foods I should avoid feeding to my baby?”

  • Don't give her anything that could get stuck in her throat, so avoid hard foods like popcorn and nuts and sticky foods like peanut butter.
  • Any “round” foods, like carrots slices or grapes, should be cut into quarters.
  • You may have heard that you should delay potentially allergenic foods, and you may have seen lists of such foods. Current research suggests that there is no benefit or reduction in the development of allergies due to delaying certain foods. 1
  • Never give honey to a baby until he is over a year old because of the risk of botulism (food poisoning).
  • If there are any foods or drinks to which members of your family are allergic or sensitive, talk with your health care provider before offering them to your baby.

“How much food does he need? How many times a day should I feed him?”

Start slowly, just once a day. If you miss a day, don't worry. Table foods may be offered whenever it is most convenient. It is not necessary to stick to a strict daily schedule. At first he will mostly play with his food. If any of it gets in his mouth, consider it a bonus! Start with about a teaspoon of food and add more when he asks for it. You might want to put an old shower curtain under his chair to catch the crumbs. Wait about a week before introducing each new food. That way it will be easy to see if anything upsets his stomach or gives him a rash.

“What about juices? Won't he need extra water too?”

Whole fruits contain fiber and are much more nutritious than juices. It makes sense to either limit juices or even avoid them completely. Some mothers like to offer a little water in a sippy cup with meals.

“Wow, I am excited to start! But I was wondering, if I start on other foods, won't he nurse less often? I don't want to lose my milk, and I am not ready to stop nursing.”

Your milk remains the most important part of your baby's diet until he is about a year old. Always nurse him before offering other foods and afterwards as well if he is interested. Nursing before offering solids will both ensure that baby gets enough breastmilk and maintain your milk production.

Babies need only their mother’s milk for about the first six months. Your baby will continue to receive the same nutrition and protection from your milk as long as you continue to nurse.

The continuing protection from illness is important for your baby, because when babies become more mobile, they are toddling around and picking up all kinds of germs, some of which go straight into their mouths.

It is fun to see your baby begin to explore the different tastes and textures of various foods.

You may also like to read:

Baby Led Weaning and More on Baby Led Weaning http://www.babyledweaning.com/

Whole Foods for Babies and Toddlers by Margaret Kenda

Mash and Smash Cookbook by Marian Buck-Murray

Sugar-Free Toddlers by Susan Watson

My Child Won't Eat! by Carlos González, MD

References:
1. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition. Pediatric News, November 2009: “Rice Cereal Can Wait, Let Then Eat Meat First: AAP committee has changes in mind”

2. Raj, S et al. “A prospective study of iron status in exclusively breastfed term infants up to 6 months of age”, International Breastfeeding Journal, 2007.