What Do I Feed My Baby?

For the first four to six months of your baby’s life, his or her diet consists solely of milk, whether from breast or bottle. When it comes time to start feeding your baby solid food, many experts give conflicting advice about what the right types of food to feed your baby. Some of these experts are of course, right in your own family. Grandma, Aunt Bessie, your sister, and others will all want to help you out by telling you what is best. What they may not understand is that recommendations may have changed since they were the mother of a new baby.

Dr. Ronald Kleinman, chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at Massachusetts General Hospital, recalls nutritional guidelines that differ greatly from today’s recommendations. “Several generations ago, doctors were quite dogmatic in establishing the order of what came first, next, and next. For example, the pediatrician would say, ‘First, rice cereal. Then, peas. Then, introduce a yellow vegetable.’ There wasn’t any rhyme or reason to that dogmatism.”

Without that strict guideline though, it’s easy for parents to be confused about which approach to take. What type of food is the best to start with? How much should my baby eat each day? What types of food are bad or harmful to my baby? What if he’s allergic to something I feed him? There are also a lot of myths to confuse you even more.

Let’s explore some myths and facts about your baby’s diet;

Myth: The first food that your baby is fed must be rice cereal. Rice cereal is a great place to start, but not the only potential first food you feed your baby. Almost any soft, hypoallergenic food can be fed to your baby as their first food. Mashed sweet potatoes and applesauce are two examples.

Myth: You should not feed your baby meat as a first food. As long as the food is soft or mashed and is hypoallergenic, your baby should be able to eat it.

Fact: You need to allow some time after each new food you introduce to see if it causes an allergic reaction in your baby. Food allergies can cause reactions varying in severity from mild to serious, including anaphylactic shock. However, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) reports that only eight percent of children under age six have adverse reactions to ingested foods, and that only two to five percent have confirmed food allergies. People often confuse reactions to food with food allergies. For example, if a child has a stomach bug, he may be lactose intolerant for a week. That is a negative reaction, but not an allergy. “There is a host of adverse reactions to foods, and allergies are a subset of those,” says Dr. Kleinman.

Fact; Your baby has a higher chance of being allergic to certain foods more than others, such as peanut butter, peanuts, egg whites, shellfish, fish, and tree nuts like walnuts and cashews. If your family is prone to food allergies you need to wait until your baby is at least three years old before introducing them to these foods. Even if your family is not prone to food allergies, there is no reason to start your baby on peanuts before age three.

Myth; If a baby refuses a food a few times, that means that she doesn’t like it. “There’s a lot of good research to show that children are notoriously stubborn about new foods,” says Dr. Kleinman. It’s often necessary to introduce the unpalatable food multiple times.

Leann Birch, head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Penn State, published a study on food preferences in children. In it, she found that parents must present a food six to eight times before a baby will accept it. Don’t force it, but don’t give up easily, either. You really do know more about nutrients, vitamins, and calories than your baby does, and he’s counting on you to persist.

Fact; As your baby begins to eat solid foods their motor skills will become more efficient and they will be able to begin feeding themselves. If you wish to speed the process along, start out by offering your baby finger foods after they have been on solid food for awhile, such as pieces of toasted oat bread, small pieces of well-cooked sweet potato, banana slices, or small chunks of avocado.

Myth; Commercial baby food is preferable to table food. Parents tend to believe that there’s something special about commercially made baby food. That’s a myth; in fact, most of the regular food on your table every night is probably just fine for your infant to eat. By pureeing food in a blender for your baby, you control exactly what your infant eats. “None of the baby food manufacturers have been found to be completely honest or accurate about what is in their products,” warns Dr. Charles Shubin, director of Pediatrics at Mercy Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Fact; You need to be extra careful when preparing food for infants and small babies. Practice good food hygiene. Wash your hands, scrub bowls and utensils thoroughly, keep food hot or cold as indicated, and cook food thoroughly. Make sure you keep the portions you feed your baby small enough for them to digest. Fruit needs to be stewed and strained to a creamy consistency to start out with, then you can move on to chunky, then bite sized pieces as you progress.

Myth; Parents should only offer a small varieties of bland foods. When your baby is 6 months old it’s okay to introduce food that has more flavor. Remember, what you enjoyed while you were pregnant may have given the baby for a taste for it as well. Babies learn flavor preferences from the adult feeding the baby.

Myth; It doesn’t matter what I eat, as long as my baby eats healthy. Babies and children learn by example. If all you eat is fried chicken and ice cream, they will want to only eat fried chicken and ice cream. If you do not want your child to be obese, set an example and eat healthy, so they will learn to eat healthy.

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