As a new parent, you want to provide your baby with the best possible start in life. Studies show healthy eating habits begin to develop with your baby's first foods.
Appropriate and healthy feeding of your baby during the first year of life is extremely important. More growth occurs during the first year than at any other time in your child's life. For the first few months, breast milk or formula is all that is needed. As your baby grows, starting a variety of healthy foods at the proper time is important for proper growth and development. And, starting good eating habits at this early stage will help set healthy eating patterns for life.
Do not give solid foods unless your baby's physician advises you to do so. Solid foods should not be started before 4 months of age for the following reasons:
- Breast milk or formula provides your baby all the nutrients that are needed to grow.
- Your baby is not physically developed enough to eat solid food from a spoon.
- Starting your baby on solid food too early increases the chance that he/she may develop a food allergy.
- Feeding your baby solid food too early may lead to overfeeding and being overweight.
- As a general rule, solid foods do not help babies sleep through the night
Begin with small amounts of new solid foods - a teaspoon at first and slowly increase to a tablespoon.
The first solid foods are dry infant cereals, mixed as directed. Once your baby adjusts to these, you can add vegetables. Then add fruits, then add meats.
Do not use salt or sugar when making homemade baby foods. Also, avoid feeding homemade spinach, beets, green beans, squash, and carrots before six months of age because of the risk of methemglobinemia (a blood disorder that can interfere with oxygen delivery in the blood) due to high concentration of nitrates.
Canned foods may contain large amounts of salt and sugar and should not be used for baby food. Always wash and peel fruits and vegetables and remove seeds or pits. Take special care with fruits and vegetables that come into contact with the ground. They may contain botulism spores that cause food poisoning.
Iron-fortified infant cereals should be fed until the baby is 18 months old
Cow's milk should not be added to the diet until the baby is 12 months of age. Cow's milk does not provide the right nutrients for your baby.
Fruit juice without sugar can be started when the baby is able to drink from a cup (around six months or older).
Feed all foods with a spoon. Your baby needs to learn to eat from a spoon. Do not use an infant feeder. Only formula and water should go into the bottle.
Avoid honey in any form for the first year because it can cause a type of botulism.
Do not put your baby in bed with a bottle propped in his/her mouth. Propping the bottle is linked to ear infections and choking. Once your baby's teeth are present, propping the bottle can cause tooth decay.
Your baby's physician can advise you on how to wean a baby off the bottle.
Avoid the "clean plate syndrome." Forcing your child to eat all the food on his/her plate even when he/she is not hungry is not a good habit. It teaches your child to eat just because the food is there, not because he/she is hungry. Expect a smaller and pickier appetite as the baby's growth rate slows around one year of age. To avoid wastage or to just to teach him/her to clean plate don't put extra over his plate.
Healthy babies usually require little or no extra water, except in very hot weather. When solid food is first fed to your baby, extra water is often needed.
Do not limit your baby's food choices to the ones you like. Offering a wide variety of foods early will pave the way for good eating habits later.
Fat and cholesterol should not be restricted in the diets of babies and very young children, unless advised to by your baby's physician. Children need calories, fat, and cholesterol for the development of their brains and nervous systems and for general growth.