A baby is considered premature if he's born earlier than the 37th week of pregnancy. A preemie should be introduced to solid foods around four to six months after his expected due date -- rather than his actual date of birth, notes FamilyDoctor.org. Since a preemie lags behind a full-term newborn developmentally, it can take him longer to learn to swallow. Feeding solids to a premature baby before his time increases the risk of choking.
Subtracting the number of weeks your baby was born early from her anticipated date of birth correctly measures your preemie's real or adjusted age. If your little one was born eight weeks premature, at eight months she is six months old for all intents and purposes, and it may be time to think about adding baby food to her heretofore liquids-only diet.
Knowing when to add solids to your baby's diet isn't an exact science, but waiting too long -- just like starting too early -- carries its own risk. Delaying baby food until your infant reaches an adjusted age of seven months or longer can cause your baby to reject anything but milk or other liquids. In addition, a baby is born with iron reserves that last only six months, after which time he needs food to meet his iron needs, reports the Auckland District Health Board in New Zealand.
Your baby will offer many clues when he's ready to give solids a try. Head control is important when it comes to eating baby food. The ability to hold his head up in an infant seat or high chair and open his mouth when he sees the spoon heading his way are positive signs that solids are in order. Trying to grab your food when you're eating is also a sign that he craves more than milk.
Being able to move food from a spoon into his throat with ease is an important sign of readiness. If you attempt to feed your infant a spoon of cereal and it gushes out of his mouth and drips onto his chin, the messy moment is probably a clear sign that he's not yet able to move food to the back of his mouth, which allows him to swallow. Don't despair; it will take time for him to get the hang of consuming something other than liquids.
The First Solid Food
Serving your preemie a sampling of single-grain iron-fortified cereal like oatmeal, barley or rice mixed with infant formula or breast milk once daily is a good way to get her started on solids, notes March of Dimes. Stop feeding your baby solids if she seems disinterested in what you have to offer, turns her head in the opposite direction of the spoon or starts crying. Return to breast or bottle-feeding for awhile before attempting solids again; adjusting to solids takes time, and in the early months, most of your preemie's nutritional needs are being met from breast milk and/or formula.
A variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, meats and eggs, should be incorporated into your baby's diet over the next several months, advises HealthyChildren.org. Don't be surprised if your baby makes funny faces or shakes his head no when you try to serve him a new food that has an unfamiliar texture or taste. It may take a few tries before your baby willingly accepts a new food. Offer one new food at a time -- one or two per week is ideal -- to help identify foods that may cause an allergic reaction.
- FamilyDoctor.org: Caring for Your Premature Baby
- Mayo Clinic: Premature Baby? Understand Your Preemie's Special Needs
- MedlinePlus: Premature Babies
- HealthyChildren.org: Switching to Solids
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Caring for Your Premature Baby
- Aucklund District Health Board: First Foods for Premature Babies
- Macomb County Health Department: Good Nutrition for Growing Babies