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
Introducing new foods to your baby is an exciting and a scary time because foods that are known to cause allergic reactions, like peanut, can be stressful. The good news is, research and medical guidance has been evolving. Strong research and promising studies now show that introducing a wide variety of healthy foods into a baby’s diet early and often is recommended – and it may help lower the risk of certain food allergies.
Starting Solid Foods
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you can start introducing 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
It is 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 eczema. In these cases, be sure to talk to your pediatrician as soon as possible and before introducing foods that commonly cause allergies. 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:
- Sitting up with little or no support
- Good head control
- Opens his or her mouth and leans forward when food is offered
Guidelines to follow when introducing new foods to your baby:
- Variety is important. A more diverse diet plays a major role in proper nutrition and development, and in some studies, it has been linked to lower odds of developing food allergies. So, be sure to introduce a variety of foods! But make sure to only introduce one new food at a time. If your baby tolerates the food, then you can begin mixing the foods together.
- Start with fruits and veggies. Wait until your baby has been introduced to a few solid foods like fruits and vegetables before offering a food that commonly causes allergies, like peanut-containing products or eggs.
- Include iron-rich foods. Early foods should also include those that are rich in iron (such as fortified cereal, green vegetables and meats).
- Keep it small. Feed small portions and encourage your baby to eat slowly. 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.
- Be patient. Wait two to three days between each new food. This helps you see if your child has any problems with a food, such as an allergic reaction.
- 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. Sometimes it takes a baby 10 to 15 tastes of a food before they start to eat it readily.
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.
Many of the recipes recommended to introduce age-appropriate peanut foods can be adapted for tree nut foods also. Remember to introduce only one type of nut food at a time, and be sure to avoid whole nuts, nut chunks and full-strength nut butters – these can be choking hazards for babies.
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.
What About Breastfeeding?
Here are some helpful facts about breastfeeding and allergies:
- Limiting a mother’s diet while she is pregnant, or breastfeeding does not prevent allergies.
- Exclusive breastfeeding for three to four months may protect against eczema in the first two years of life.
- Any breastfeeding beyond three to four months may protect against wheezing in the first two years of life.
- Breastfeeding for longer duration may protect against asthma, even after age five.
- It’s not clear whether breastfeeding can prevent or delay the development of food allergies. Exclusive breast feeding beyond three to six months is not recommended.
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.