Dear Mr. Dad: My baby is 4 months old and my wife has been breastfeeding her since day one. She thinks it’s about time for the baby to start eating real food. What are the best foods to feed her and how do we start?
A: Hold on. Four months is too soon to wean your baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants have nothing but breast milk for six months. After that, it’s OK to gradually phase out the milk and phase in some food. Those two extra months are really important. Several studies have found babies who were breastfed for four months were twice as likely to develop pneumonia and four times more likely to develop ear infections than babies who were breastfed for six months. So don’t quit now.
Keep in mind that making the switch from breastfeeding to solid food is a process, which means you and your wife will need to be patient. At the very least, it’ll take a few days for your baby _ who’s had nothing but breast milk so far _ to get use to any new textures and tastes. At the same time, she’ll have to figure out how to use her tongue to get that gooey stuff from the front of her mouth all the way back to her throat where she can swallow it (liquids generally manage to make that journey all by themselves).
You’ll also need to introduce new foods one at a time. That will help you pinpoint the source of any allergic reactions. Throughout this process, solid foods should augment — not replace — breastfeeding. Here’s how to do it.
Your baby’s first food should be a single-grain cereal — oatmeal, barley or rice (those tend to be the least allergenic foods). For the first few days, add breast milk or formula — but not cow’s milk — to make the cereal especially liquidy. Get the kind that’s finely ground for babies, not the kind you’d eat yourself. Keep your camera handy to capture the amazing array of faces your baby makes.
Offer new foods at the beginning of the meal, when your baby is likely to be at her hungriest.
Three days after you successfully manage to get some cereal down your baby’s throat, start adding pureed vegetables _ one at a time, three to five days apart. Make sure she gets a good mix of yellow (carrots, squash) and green (peas, zucchini) veggies. Stay away from bananas. They’re easy to mash up, but they’re also very sweet, and your baby may like them so much that she’ll refuse to eat any other new foods.
After a week or so on vegetables, add in some non-citrus fruits (pureed — like apple sauce — one at a time, three to five days in between).
No juice — it’s basically pure sugar.
At some point introduce yogurt. It’s a good source of protein and can easily be mixed with other foods. If your baby doesn’t like yogurt you may be able to trick her into eating some by putting a blueberry or some other treat at the back of the spoon.
Breads and cereals are next.
At about her first birthday, your baby will be able to eat any kind of table scraps, but in very small pieces.
One big warning: Do not give your baby honey or corn sweeteners for at least the first year. They may contain tiny parasites that an adult’s digestive system can handle with no problem. But an infant’s still-immature system isn’t up to the task.