New parents are often anxious to start their babies on solid food, thinking that will help them sleep through the night.
Unfortunately, that’s a myth that’s been disproven time and time again.
“Babies usually start sleeping through the night by about 4 months, so if parents have started them on cereal by then, it’s really just a coincidence their babies are sleeping better,” said Dr. Sarah Ayers, a pediatrician in the Kent office of Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics. “It’s not because cereal is keeping them satisfied longer.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies not be given solid food until they’re between 4 to 6 months old.
“Research has shown that delaying solid food until at least 4 months helps to prevent food allergies,” said Dr. Ayers. “Breast milk and infant formula also supply them with more of the calories they need compared to infant cereal.”
How to introduce solid foods
When it’s time, the best way to start baby on solid food is to introduce a single-ingredient infant cereal.
While rice cereal has often been parents’ first choice, Dr. Ayers recommends oatmeal cereals over rice because oatmeal is less constipating.
By 6 months, parents can also introduce single-ingredient baby foods including fruits, vegetables and meats.
“Fruits, veggies and meats don’t have to be introduced in any particular order,” said Dr. Ayers. “However, parents should wait 3 to 4 days before introducing each new one so they can identify which one might be causing problems, such as constipation or diarrhea.”
When babies are around 8 to 9 months old, parents can give them soft, moist table foods. Just make sure they’re cut into small pieces so as not to pose a choking hazard. Encourage your baby to pick them up and eat them on her own.
Some parents have embraced a concept known as “baby led feeding” or “baby led weaning” where infants as young as 5 or 6 months are given small pieces of soft table foods to encourage self-feeding. Dr. Ayers worries about the risk of choking with this practice.
A word about food allergies
While delaying the start of solid foods until at least 4 months helps to prevent food allergies, research has also shown that delaying some foods for too long can increase the risk.
“Some parents have avoided giving their babies certain foods, such as eggs or peanut butter, until they’re 2 or 3 years old to avoid a possible allergic reaction,” said Dr. Ayers. “But that can actually increase the risk.”
During the first year, the only foods that should be avoided completely are honey and processed foods containing honey like honey graham crackers. This is due to the risk of infant botulism.
By 6 to 8 months, Dr. Ayers recommends offering water in a sippy cup to help your baby get used to drinking from a cup. Avoid juice as babies don’t really need it and it’s mostly sugar.
“For the first year, water and breast milk or infant formula are the best choices. At 12 months, your baby can start drinking whole milk,” she said.
For other questions about infant feeding, talk to your baby’s doctor.