So your baby is 6 months old? This is an exciting time for you and your child, mom and dad! With the guidance of your child’s pediatrician, your little one can now start exploring different kinds of food other than milk.
Starting at this age, breast milk will no longer be enough to fulfill your child’s nutritional needs, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Your baby will need vitamins and minerals from other foods and liquids while continuing to be breastfed.
“It is well recognized that the period from birth to two years of age is a 'critical window' for the promotion of optimal growth, health and behavioral development,” says WHO. Lack of sufficient nutrition during this age can result to growth stunting and other health consequences that will be very difficult to reverse after age 2.
“The immediate consequences of poor nutrition during these formulative years include significant morbidity and mortality and delayed mental and motor development,” adds WHO. Long-term effects include impairment in: intellectual performance, work capacity, reproductive outcomes and overall health during adolescence and adulthood.
Ready to start solids? Here’s a parent’s quick guide on solid food feeding for breastfed infants ages 6 to 8 months as recommended by the Pan American Health Organization and WHO’s complementary feeding guide for breastfed babies found here.
Is your baby ready? From the American Academy of Pediatrics guide book, Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know, here's how to know if your child is ready to start solids:
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Must be able to hold his head up. Your baby should be in a sitting position when you feed him and he should already have good head control
Opens his mouth when food comes his way. You may notice that your child also watches you eat, reaches for your food or looks eager to be fed.
Must be able to swallow. It's normal for babies to push food out his mouth during your first try of feeding him, says the AAP. “Try diluting it the first few times; then, gradually thicken the texture. You may also want to wait a week or two and try again.”
Is big enough to start solids. According to AAP, generally, infants are ready to start solids when they've doubled in birth weight or weigh around 13 pounds or more. Some babies start eating solids as early at 4 months old.
How much food to give and how to give it If you’ve only just started to introduce solids, start with just 2 to 3 tablespoons per feeding. You’ll find that even this small amount may be difficult at first, finding that her first bite (give around half a spoonful) is only played around in her mouth or rejected altogether. “One way to make eating solids for the first time easier is to give your baby a little breast milk, formula, or both first; then switch to very small half-spoonfuls of food; and finish with more breast milk or formula,” says the AAP. If your baby cries when fed, go back to exclusive breastfeeding before trying again.
As your baby warms up to solids, gradually increase the amount of food you give her by tablespoons until you reach half of a 250mL cup. For infants ages 6 to 8 months, recommended energy intake from complementary foods is 200 calories per day. To give a little perspective, one small banana has 90 calories and one cup of white rice has 200 calories, as based on data from the U.S. National Nutrient Database.
Be responsive to your child’s hunger cues so you know if he wants more or doesn’t want to eat anymore. Do not force your child to eat, advices WHO. Each child’s needs are different and these are dictated by a lot of factors including the amount of breastmilk he consumes and his growth rate, says the guidelines.
How often Feed your 6- to 8-month-old 2 to 3 meals per day in the amounts stated above. Even as you feed your child solid foods, his breastfeeding should continue, ideally until he’s 2 years old or longer, says WHO. Depending on your child’s appetite, you can also offer him 1 to 2 snacks in between meals too. What to give There’s no right food to start with, says the AAP. But begin with one kind of food first, like porridge or other mashed foods. Once he gets used to this, prepare a wide variety of foods for your little one to try such as different kinds of vegetables, meat, poultry and fish. (Find guidelines for fish consumption for kids which includes which fish are safe to give.) Feel free to experiment with different foods that vary in taste and texture but give your baby just one new food to try at a time.
Don’t add salt to his food. Your baby’s kidney isn’t developed enough to process it. Here’s a list of foods to avoid giving your baby including sugar and honey. Stick to fresh foods (that are cooked until they’re very soft and are thoroughly mashed), and avoid giving processed foods that are made for adults and children. Sugar recommendations from the AAP says children below 2 years old should not have any sugary drinks at all such as soda and sweetened juice.
How to prepare Stick to pureed food first. Use a blender or a food processor to puree your child's food. If you're feeding him for the very first time, mix in breastmilk until the consistency is runny, says nutrition coach and mom Renee Rose Rodrigo.
“When foods of inappropriate consistency are offered, the child may be unable to consume more than a trivial amount, or may take so long to eat that food intake is compromised,” says the guidelines.
Mastered pureed food? Gradually increase food consistency as he gets older. Try mashed foods next, and then move to semi-solid foods. Make sure everything you give your baby is very soft and easy to swallow.
At 8 months, your child may be ready for “finger foods” or food that he can hold and eat by himself. This must be soft as well, easy to swallow and cut into small pieces. Avoid choking hazards like whole grapes, marshmallows and white bread. Try scrambled eggs, well-cooked pasta, and well-cooked, finely chopped chicken.
Find recipes for babies 7 to 8 months old by a nutrition coach here.
Tips to remember when feeding your infant 1. Be sensitive to your child’s hunger cues. Just like how it is with breastfeeding, be observant on behaviors your child exhibits when he’s hungry. These may be the perfect times to feed him. 2. Take it slow and be patient. Remember, your child is new to this. He will need a lot of love and understanding from you. 3. Encourage your baby to eat. This may improve your child’s dietary intake, says WHO. Doesn’t hurt to try the good ol’ “here comes the choo-choo train” method, right? Don’t force your child to eat if he doesn’t want to, however. 4. Minimize distractions. If your child loses interest in his food quickly, take away toys and objects that are grabbing his attention. Keep him focused on you and his food by making mealtimes more engaging. 5. Talk to your child while you feed him. Maintain eye contact and be in the moment. “Feeding times are periods of learning and love,” says the guide.