Proper nutrition is essential for the growth and development of your baby. During the first few months of life, your baby is dependent on breast milk, formula or a combination of the two. The challenging part of feeding your baby comes when it’s time to supplement breast milk or formula with solids.
While you want to give your child the best, you may feel overwhelmed with confusing and inconsistent information that you find on the internet, or hear from family and friends.
In this article, we’ll outline the basics of baby nutrition and give you tips for introducing your baby to nutritious solid food at the right time and in the right way.
What Is Baby Nutrition?
Baby nutrition simply refers to the dietary needs of your baby. Breast milk offers much-needed nutrition during the first months of growth. It helps improve immunity, digestive health and mental development, and also prevents obesity, anemia and sudden infant death syndrome.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, your baby should be fed exclusively on breast milk during the first 6 months of life. However, in some cases, breastfeeding isn’t possible and your doctor may recommend iron-fortified formula to your baby to meet their nutritional needs.
Top 8 Baby Nutrition Tips
1. Introduce Your Baby to Solids at 4 to 6 Months
Most infants can be introduced to solid food as a supplement to breast milk or formula feeding between the ages of 4 and 6 months. At this point, your baby has likely mastered the skill of swallowing, and is no longer pushing the food out of their mouth with their tongue; rather, they're able to guide the food to the back of their mouth to swallow it.
Other signs your baby may be ready to start solids are:
- Holding their head in an upright position
- Sitting without support
- Putting their hands or toys in their mouth
- Showing an interest in food by leaning forward and/or opening their mouth
If your baby shows all these signs and your doctor gives you a go-ahead, you can start complementing his or her liquid diet with solid foods.
2. Continue Breastfeeding or Formula-feeding Your Baby
It’s important to remember that solid foods are just a supplement, not a total replacement, for breast milk or formula as babies usually eat small amounts of solid foods at first. Therefore, ensure you continue to feed your baby with breast milk or formula after introducing solids.
3. Start Simple
When you begin to introduce solids to your baby, give them single-ingredient foods with no salt or sugar added. Introducing single-ingredient foods allows you to detect allergic reactions including rashes, vomiting and/or diarrhea. If your baby develops an allergic reaction, speak to your doctor about a referral to a pediatric allergist.
A common food to start with is single-grain infant cereal that can be made into a smooth consistency by adding breast milk or formula. Once your baby gets used to single-ingredient foods, you can start to mix ingredients and thicken the consistency.
4. Help Your Baby Adapt to the Experience of Eating Solids
It takes time and practice for your little one to get accustomed to solid foods. Not only is the spoon a new thing, but having solid foods in his or her mouth is unfamiliar and may be upsetting for some babies. Don’t focus on making your baby eat a large quantity of food; a teaspoon or two at first is a perfect start.
5. Gradually Introduce Vegetables and Fruits
Vegetables are rich in nutrients and easy to prepare. They are also less sweet than fruits; therefore, it’s often recommended that you introduce vegetables first.
Introduce them gradually, waiting at least three days before adding another food, to check how your baby responds to the taste and texture and to ensure no allergies develop. Don’t worry if your little one rejects them at first; you can only conclude that your baby doesn’t like a certain fruit or vegetable after she or he has rejected it at least 10 times.
6. Make Your Own Baby Food
Making food for your baby is easy, affordable and nutritious. You can prepare a delicious and nutritious meal for your little one using a small blender or food processor. In the beginning, your baby will have limited food choices, but they will increase over time. This is because you’ll be able to chop or puree most of the foods you’ll be making, which makes food preparation easy. What’s more, you’ll have peace of mind from knowing precisely what your little one is getting.
Ensure you blend/puree the food properly until it achieves a runny consistency. Avoid foods that are chocking hazards including hot dogs, nuts, grapes and popcorn.
7. Observe the Basic Food Safety Rules
Ensure your hands are clean before making food for your little one. You should heat food properly and dispose of uneaten food right away. Also, remember to refrigerate groceries meant for your baby’s food appropriately.
8. Know When to Stop
Observe your baby’s signals to know when she or he is full. Some signals include closing the lips tightly, turning away, forcing out whatever you insert in his or her mouth, or even crying. Once your baby has shown you any of these signs, it’s time to stop feeding him or her.
Introducing solid foods to your baby is an exciting time that can be overwhelming with the abundance of information available. Begin by introducing single-ingredient pureed foods to your baby between the ages of 4 and 6 months, spaced out by at least three days, and monitor for allergic reactions.
Follow your baby’s cues and enjoying watching them master this new skill!