Baby food revolution: Rules for feeding your baby that still apply

Baby food revolution: Rules for feeding your baby that still apply

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When it comes to feeding your baby, change is in the air. Check out Baby food revolution: New rules for feeding your baby to learn how to get your baby started on a lifetime of good eating.

Not everything has changed, of course. Here are some tried and true guidelines that still apply.

(Note: Before starting your baby on solid foods, make sure he's at least 4 months old and shows signs of readiness.)

Introduce new foods one at a time

Even though the restrictions on what to feed babies have loosened, the thinking on how to feed them still stands: Offer new foods one at a time, and wait about three to five days before introducing the next new food. This way, if your baby has a bad reaction, you'll know what caused it.

Signs of an allergic reaction include diarrhea, vomiting, rash, or hives. If you notice these symptoms within minutes or hours of your baby eating a new food, call your baby's doctor right away. The doctor can tell you what to do if these reactions suddenly become life-threatening.

If your baby has trouble breathing or swelling of the face or lips, call 911 or your local emergency number right away.

Keep in mind that the rule for introducing foods one at a time isn't a foolproof method for catching allergies. It's possible for babies to have an allergic reaction to a food they've eaten before with no problem. This may be especially likely if their first few exposures to the food were small amounts of it in a different food – for example, a muffin made with eggs or milk.

Feed your baby the necessary fats

Grocery store shelves are bursting with low-fat and nonfat products – should babies be eating these? Absolutely not.

"Fat is essential for growth. Both breast milk and formula contain a lot of it," says Seattle pediatrician Susanna Block.

Experts recommend serving babies full-fat dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, until age 2.

Note: Don't give your baby cow's milk to drink until after her first birthday. At that point, serve whole milk (unless the doctor tells you otherwise).

The unsaturated fat in avocado makes it another wonderful choice for your baby, and the same goes for salmon and other fatty fish because they contain essential fatty acids, including omega-3s.

Offer rejected foods again – and again

When it comes to sampling new foods, babies make harsh critics. Offer a mouthful of your famous pureed green beans with dill, and your baby may swallow it reluctantly – or spit it out and push your hand away, mouth clamped shut.

Don't force the issue. For one thing, your baby may just not be hungry. Babies' appetites fluctuate, and they need less food than many of us think.

On the other hand, your baby might be turned off by the look, smell, or taste of a food. This doesn't mean you should ban it from your table permanently.

"Research shows that children will often begin to tolerate a new food only after they're exposed to it several times," says pediatrician Block.

So although it can be frustrating to watch your baby reject the food you've lovingly prepared, take a deep breath and try again another day.

Limit junk food

Everyone knows that junk food is unhealthy, but the negative effects can be much more serious for babies. (Unfortunately, some classic kid foods actually qualify as junk. See our list of the worst foods for babies.)

That's because even a very small serving of sugary or salty junk food is likely to make your baby feel full, leaving less room for healthier food with the nutrients necessary for brain growth and development.

"Babies' calorie needs are relatively low, but their nutrient needs are high," says physician and dietitian Christine Gerbstadt. "Insufficient nutrition can even affect [when your baby reaches] milestones."

Does this mean you're a bad parent if you let your little one sample a french fry or gnaw on a corner of your chocolate chip cookie once in a while? No – just don't make it a regular habit because it could encourage your baby to develop a taste for sugary or salty foods.

Be aware of choking hazards

Choking is still a danger, so this more relaxed attitude about feeding babies definitely doesn't extend to food size and consistency.

Mash or puree your baby's food, and keep in mind that eating solids is like any other milestone – babies master it at different times. Some babies will be ready for thicker, lumpier purees before others.

"If you notice your baby coughing on the thicker puree, it may mean he's not ready to handle it yet. Take it away and step back down to the thinner puree for a while," says Block. If the problem persists, talk to your child's doctor.

As your baby progresses to finger foods, you'll no longer need to puree everything, but do be sure to cut food into small pieces no larger than 1/2 inch. Don't give your baby choking hazards such as hot dogs, nuts, chunks of raw vegetables, popcorn, and other foods that can be unsafe.

Alternatively, you can offer large, soft chunks of food and let your baby feed herself. Read our article on this technique, called baby-led weaning, for guidelines on how to do it safely.

Demonstrate the joy of eating

"Dining with one's friends and beloved family is certainly one of life's primal and most innocent delights," Julia Child famously said.

Enjoying your food is the most meaningful thing you can do to foster a similar appreciation in your little one. Babies watch their parents and model them, so experiment with different flavors and new foods. Let your baby see you eating and savoring lots of different healthy foods. If you enjoy the simple pleasure of eating good food, chances are your baby will too.

Unfortunately, it's also easy to become frustrated and stressed about your baby's eating habits. Her fickle appetite, your concern about whether she's eating enough, and the sheer messiness can conspire to turn feeding time into a chore – or even an outright battle.

It doesn't have to be this way. There are several things you can do to make mealtime an enjoyable experience. First, make sure you have enough time so that you aren't hurrying your baby's meals. And hard as it is, accept the mess as a given – letting babies play with their food is actually good for them.

"Young children who are learning to eat should be allowed to make messes. While playing they're actually learning about new tastes and smells and how to get food into their mouth," says dietitian Eileen Behan. "Most important, they're learning that eating can be pleasant and enjoyable."

To make cleaning up easier, put a splat mat under your baby's highchair. On warm days, consider letting your baby dine topless to lighten your laundry load. And take comfort in knowing that everything is washable, including your baby.