Today’s pediatricians recommend that parents wait to begin feeding their babies solid foods until around 6 month of age. There aren’t any nutritional or developmental advantages to starting sooner, so the recommendation is just to breastfeed or give breast milk and/or formula in a bottle until the 6-month mark. (Don’t forget the vitamin D.)
We touched a little on recommended “first foods” for babies on The PediaBlog last month. Suffice it to say that a consensus is emerging that it probably doesn’t matter what you start with, as long as it’s pureed, it’s real food, and it’s not rice cereal. (Remember: NO HONEY UNTIL THE FIRST BIRTHDAY.) After about 3 months of trying new foods, including natural peanut butter (where the only ingredient is peanuts), eggs (cooked through), and fish (watch out for bones) — pureed or mushed and offered on a spoon — the finger foods are introduced. You can pretty much try anything as long as it’s in a form your baby won’t choke on.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says assessing readiness for finger foods is the first step:
Once your baby can sit up and bring her hands or other objects to her mouth, you can give her finger foods to help her learn to feed herself. To avoid choking, make sure anything you give your baby is soft, easy to swallow, and cut into small pieces. Some examples include:
- Small pieces of banana
- Wafer-type cookies or crackers
- Scrambled eggs
- Well-cooked pasta
- Well-cooked chicken finely chopped
- Well-cooked and cut up yellow squash, peas, and potatoes
Finger foods are table foods, so make sure they are real and have no added sugars and salt. (Your baby doesn’t need those and neither do you.) A new study emphasizes the “keeping it real” part. Researchers tested 9 different food products marketed as “first foods for crawlers” (older infants). Gerber Graduates Fruit and Veggie Pick-ups won the top prize for “least likely to choke on,” and Cheerios were rewarded as “best bang for the buck.” Susan Donaldson James says the researchers focused on the choking hazards of puffed grain products, cereals, biscuits, cooked produce, and melts:
Choking is the leading cause of injury and death among children, especially those younger than 4, according to a 2013 study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 12,000 children a year end up in emergency rooms from choking on food.
In the Cohen study, “Chew on This: Not All Products Labeled First Finger Foods are Created Equal,” 11 researchers randomly tried to dissolve each food in their mouth without using teeth. Each product was tested four times — twice when fresh and twice when left out for at least an hour.
Foods for crawlers that were found to be potential choking hazards and, thus, losers in this study were Gerber Yogurt Melts (they condense and become “marshmallowy” when not eaten immediately after opening the package) and Gerber Graduates Wagon Wheels (a “big and scratchy” puffed grain product):
“It’s a very big product for a little inexperienced mouth,” Milanaik said. “You give a five-month-old a humungous Wagon Wheel and it doesn’t dissolve magically. There is a good possibility the baby will choke.”
Another reason why we suggest waiting until a baby is 9 months old and developmentally able to begin finger foods.