Safely Introducing a Wide Variety of Foods to Your Baby
Not sure when your baby will be ready to eat or how to introduce foods in a safe way? We can help you navigate it all.
Recommendations on Introducing Foods Have Evolved
As recently as the early 2000s, the widely accepted advice was that babies at risk for food allergies should avoid many allergy-causing foods until age one or even older. With the benefit of new science, this guidance has changed. According to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, there is no evidence that delaying introduction of allergenic foods, beyond when other complementary foods are introduced, helps to prevent food allergy.
Starting Solid Foods
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you can start introducing nutrient-dense single-ingredient foods like fruits (apples, pears and bananas), vegetables (green vegetables, sweet potatoes, squash and carrots) and cereal grains (rice or oat cereal) between four to six months, when your infant is developmentally ready. Parents should also be aware of texture and consistency, introducing all new foods in a form that your baby can safely handle without choking. Once these first foods have been successfully added into your baby’s diet, you can then move onto foods that commonly can trigger allergies (defined as allergens).
Before You Get Started
Research now shows that introducing peanuts to your infant early can help reduce the risk of peanut allergy for your baby. However, before you get started, it’s important to note that some babies may be more likely to have a food allergy. For instance, if your family has a history of food allergy, you already suspect your baby has a food allergy, or your baby has severe eczema or an egg allergy, wait to give peanut-containing foods until your doctor says it is okay. If your baby does have a food allergy or eczema, your doctor may want to refer you to an allergist and/or run some tests before introducing certain foods. For babies that are considered at high risk, it is important to discuss with your pediatrician and allergist early (before they are four months old) as some babies may benefit more from early introduction, potentially preventing food allergy.
How do you know if your baby is ready to start solid foods?
Every child is different, but most babies are ready for solids between four and six months. And, as with anything related to your baby’s health, it is best to consult with your child’s pediatrician. Your baby’s four- or six-month well-child visit is a great time to have a conversation with your pediatrician about introducing solid foods.
Some good indicators that your baby may be ready for solid foods include:
- Being able to control head and neck
- Sitting up alone or with support
- Bringing objects to the mouth
- Trying to grasp small objects, such as toys or food
- Swallowing food rather than pushing it back out onto the chin
Guidelines to follow when introducing new foods to your baby:
- Start with one food first. Introducing one food over a 3-day period is a common recommendation. However, there is no data to support this practice as necessary, and it could prolong the introduction of new foods. Talk to your doctor about an introduction schedule that is safe and practical for your baby.
- Introduce potentially allergenic foods. Once your baby has been introduced to a few solid foods like purred fruits and vegetables, you can offer a food that commonly causes allergies, like peanut-containing products or eggs.
- Keep it small. Feed small portions and encourage your baby to eat slowly. Start with half a spoonful or less and talk to your baby through the process. Always watch your child while he or she is eating.
- Softer the better. Prepare foods that can be easily dissolved with saliva and do not require chewing. Some foods are potential choking hazards, so it is important to feed your baby foods that are age-appropriate and the right texture.
- Location matters. When it comes to potentially allergy-causing foods, introduce those at home or in a doctor’s office, not at other locations outside the home like a daycare center or restaurant.
- Optimal health. Pick a time when your baby is healthy and can have your full attention for at least two hours so that you can watch for an allergic reaction.
- Stick to it. If your baby doesn’t like a food on the first try, keep offering the food. Remember, your baby has never had anything thicker than breast milk or formula, so it may take 10 to 15 tastes of a food before they start to eat it readily.
- Variety is important. A more diverse diet plays a major role in proper nutrition and development. Encourage infants to consume a variety of foods from all food groups. Include foods rich in iron (such as fortified cereal, green vegetables, and meats) and zinc, particularly for infants fed human milk.
Introduce infants to potentially allergenic foods along with other complementary foods
- Potentially allergenic foods (e.g., peanuts, egg, cow milk products, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish, fish, and soy) should be introduced when other complementary foods are introduced to an infant’s diet.
- Introducing peanut-containing foods in the first year reduces the risk that an infant will develop a food allergy to peanuts.
- Cow milk, as a beverage, should be introduced at age 12 months or later
There is no evidence that delaying introduction of allergenic foods, beyond when other complementary foods are introduced, helps to prevent food allergy
Research shows there are ways to safely introduce peanut and other allergens
Evidence for the benefits of early peanut introduction is very strong, especially for babies at high risk for peanut allergy. Because of this, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) has developed guidelines and recipes for introducing peanut foods.Learn More
Here are some helpful hints for introducing new foods to your baby:
Got breastmilk or formula?
Many but not all babies are first introduced to milk protein through infant formula. Babies should drink breastmilk or formula rather than cow’s milk during their first year.
Don’t forget about yogurt.
Plain, full-fat yogurt is an easy early dairy food that can be introduced with other solid foods.
Beware of uncooked eggs.
Whole egg (including both egg white and egg yolk) can be introduced with other solid foods at around six months. TIP: Be sure to cook the egg thoroughly - uncooked egg can contain harmful bacteria.
Try tofu, it’s soft and easy to swallow.
Tofu is a good option to start with as it is easy to swallow. Cooked soybeans are another good choice but keep in mind they should be mashed really well!
Choose fish low in mercury.
Be sure to choose options that are low in mercury, soft enough for baby to chew easily, and fully cooked to kill harmful microbes. Introducing these strong flavors early may help your baby enjoy them later as an older child.
Mix cereals with breast milk, formula or water.
When preparing any new food, especially cereals and cooked grains, mix with breast milk, formula, or water to make them smooth and easy for your baby to swallow.
New Options on the Market
As evidence that early introduction of a wide variety of foods may reduce the risk of a child developing food allergies continues to grow, new consumer products are coming to market every day designed to simplify early introduction of foods that commonly cause allergies and provide families with options.
Remember that your pediatrician is your best resource when it comes to making choices about how to introduce new foods to your baby, so talk to your doctor about what is best for you and your family.
What is a food allergy? How do I know if my baby is having a reaction?
Learn more about what food allergies are, your baby's risk for them, and how to recognize a reaction.Learn More
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