When and how should complementary foods be added to the baby’s diet? What impact does this have on the amount of milk to give?
It is well known that doctor’s are now recommending exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life with supplementation with infant formula when necessary. Mothers are often given little guidance on the introduction of complementary foods into their baby’s diet and how much breast milk they will continue to take as foods are added.
Human milk continues to form a very important part of an infant’s diet during the second six months of life and beyond. The World Health Organization recommends that human milk should remain the main food throughout the baby’s first year and an important food during the second year of life. Introducing healthy family foods gradually starting at about 6 months of age teaches young children healthy eating habits and helps them develop socially as family members.
When babies are ready to learn to eat solid foods they give clues to their readiness. These clues include: loss of the “tongue thrust” reflex, ability to sit up unassisted and hold the head up, and reaching for food and showing interest when the family is eating. The first foods introduced should be pureed or mashed and fed with a teaspoon, a few small teaspoons at a time. The quantity of food and number of solid food feedings is increased gradually as the child gets older. Between 6 to 9 months of age, babies will generally take 2-3 small feedings of solid foods. When introducing solid foods to your baby, give the milk feeding first and try a few teaspoon of solids about ½ hour later. A variety of healthy foods may be given. Start with foods high in iron. Iron-fortified cereal is commonly given in this country as the first food with fruits and vegetables added gradually. Most health care providers recommend giving the same food daily for about a week so that allergic reactions can be more easily identified.
The six to 12 month infant will continue to take approximately 4-6 ounces of milk 5 or 6 times daily during this time. Babies vary in their intake however, with some taking more or less than this amount. Your pediatric health care provider will continue to monitor your baby’s growth as the transition to solid food intake progresses.
As your baby gets older, gradually increase food consistency and variety adapting to your baby’s requirements and abilities. It is best to avoid nuts, grapes, raw carrots and hotdogs along with other foods that are difficult to chew and can pose a choking hazard for young children. Around 8 months of age, babies become very interested in feeding themselves and will often push away a spoonful of food even when they are hungry. The answer is to place small bits of soft foods within reach of the child and allow them to feed themselves. This is a messy but important part of the baby’s development of eating skills. The goal is for the older infant to become part of family mealtimes by the end of the first year of life.