The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing solid foods to babies when they are 6 months old. Your infant may be ready to start a couple of months earlier; however, check with your baby's doctor before moving forward with such dietary changes. Cereal is an infant's first solid food and introduces him to new flavors and textures. Once your little one masters cereal, it's time to incorporate other nutritious foods.
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Signs to Look For
It's important to ensure your baby is physically ready to handle solid foods. Notice if your child's tongue-thrust reflex is still present. Young infants thrust their tongue forward when they feel something in the back of the throat, which helps prevent choking. This reflex should be completely or nearly gone before adding cereal to the diet. Otherwise, your baby will thrust the food out of his mouth. Make sure your child has good head and neck control and is able to hold up his head independently.
Don't force your infant to eat cereal or other solid foods. Try again a few days later if there's resistance; the breast milk or formula provides adequate nutrition in the meantime. The cereal mixed with the milk should be very thin at first, but do not put the mixture into a baby bottle. Starting out with one part cereal combined with four parts breast milk or formula is the recommendation in the 2011 book "American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide." Gradually increase the amount of cereal in the milk as your baby gets accustomed to eating solids. Milk or formula should still remain the chief food in your baby's diet during her first year.
Choosing a Cereal
Your baby's first cereal should be fortified with iron. Breast milk supplies enough of this mineral for your infant until about age 6 months, right around the time when solid food supplementation begins. Choose a cereal made with rice that is specially made for infants. Rice is typically the leading choice for infants' first solid food because it's gentle on the stomach. Don't introduce wheat cereals in the diet until your baby is a year old. The ADA cautions that some infants have a wheat sensitivity.
Adding Solid Foods
Begin introducing your baby to more solid foods as he gets the hang of eating increasing amounts of rice cereal. Start out with strained fruits and veggies, then progress onto pureed meats. Introduce only one new food at a time about every three to five days. This helps you recognize if a particular food is causing a reaction in your baby due to an intolerance or allergy. Avoid giving your baby foods that are common allergens in infants including eggs, peanuts, seafood and tree nuts. Stay away from citrus fruits as the high acidity could contribute to severe diaper rash. Honey and corn syrup should also be avoided because they contain bacteria dangerous to infants.