Infant Feeding: Properly Introducing Solids

Thursday, July 5, 2007 - 5:57pm

By John Messmer, MD

Providing nutrition is probably the most critical obligation we have to our babies. In the first six months of life, breast milk is ideal. Cow's milk should be avoided until one year of age. Whether breast or formula fed, infants will get all the nutrients they need. Babies have a built-in sucking reflex that makes swallowing milk automatic. In fact, the tongue action needed to get milk from a nipple interferes with eating solids. Adding solids before six months interferes with a child's nutrition because a variety of solid foods are needed to provide the kind of balance that comes from breast milk (or formula).

Nutritional needs of 6-month-olds

By about six months of age, babies have typically doubled their birth weight. Even at that age, breast milk or formula is sufficient, but the volume needed can be a barrier for many families. Nursing mothers with available time may continue to exclusively nurse their children as long as they can make the volume of milk needed. She must maintain her health and nutrition to do so and be available all day.

The addition of solid foods for children after six months reduces the amount of breast milk or formula required. By around six months or sixteen pounds of body weight, children can usually swallow solids properly and can consume a variety of solids to achieve balanced nutrition.

Which solids to start?

Iron-fortified cereal is usually added first since the extra iron is beneficial at this stage of life. Children should be fed from a spoon, not from a baby food nurser which encourages overeating. If the child can not swallow from a spoon, wait a couple weeks and try again.

There is no particular required order for introducing new foods, but most doctors recommend introducing cereal first, then vegetables and fruits, followed by meats and then eggs. Introduce one new food at a time every few days and avoid mixing foods, particularly sweet foods like fruit with vegetables in order to allow children to learn new tastes. If your child rejects one food, wait a few weeks and try it again. Food restrictions are not necessary even if there is a family history of food allergy or intolerance because it is not always inherited.

For additional articles from TheDietChannel see: When to Introduce Solid Foods, When t"Properly Introducing Solids","Weaning from the Breast.....When and How?" and How to Reduce the Risk for Food Allergies in Children.

Instilling good eating habits in children

Early childhood is the best time to teach children proper eating habits. When faced with a couple spoonfuls of food left in a jar, some parents will encourage their child to finish it rather than "waste" it. A couple spoonfuls are minimal for a full grown adult, but are substantial to an infant. When the baby stops eating, stop feeding. Babies eat more frequently than adults and might not be hungry when we sit down to dinner so if he or she does not want to eat when the parents are eating, don't force it or it can encourage eating when not hungry. Remember that snacks and desserts are not an essential part of our diets. Babies do not need desserts and will not feel deprived if they don't get them. Ice cream, pudding, etc. are just added calories.

Babies also do not need juice or extra water and they most certainly do not need soda. Breast milk or formula is the only liquid a child should have for the first year unless ill or instructed otherwise by the child's physician or other health care provider. After the first birthday, children can eat just about anything their parents eat assuming their parents eat properly and the food has the proper consistency for the child's ability to chew. Chunky foods like nuts, pieces of meat or hard cheese, popcorn, grapes and so on must be avoided until about age 4 due to a choking risk. Otherwise, soft foods can be introduced for self feeding.

The 2-year-olds: The picky eaters

Near age 2, the growth rate slows. Children tend to become picky and will eat much less some days. It is important to recognize this and not force them to eat a certain amount. Avoid offering junk food just so the child "will eat something." As long as a variety of nutritious foods is offered, the child will not starve. This is a good time to set a proper example by teaching children not to eat when they are not hungry and to limit quantities of food to the amount needed.

All parents want healthy children. Proper eating habits begin early but there will be many opportunities throughout a child's life to reinforce good nutritional choices.

For supplementary information see the following article from TheDietChannel: How Much Should Your Child Eat?.