Your baby is ready for a real-food fest when he meets some key developmental markers--he sits up with support, holds his neck steady, and shows good head control--and he reaches twice his birth weight. If you eat with your 4-to-6-month-old baby at meals, you'll begin to notice entre envy: She may reach out and grab for the food you're eating. And you'll be able to spoon-feed your baby without resistance. At about 4 months, most babies lose the tongue-thrust reflex, the tendency for an infant to push his tongue against the roof of his mouth when a spoon is inserted. Still, your baby has a way to go before he is nibbling from your plate.
The first solid food your baby will eat is likely to be a soupy mixture of a tablespoon or two of dry infant rice cereal combined with breast milk or formula. Breast milk or formula will still be on the menu until your baby is a year old or so and makes the switch to cow's milk. If your baby doesn't demonstrate an allergic response--rashes, repeated vomiting, diarrhea, or constant fussiness--after three to five days, you can gradually make the cereal thicker. When your baby is 6 months or so, you can begin to introduce, one at a time, yogurt, oatmeal, barley, wheat, and pured fruits, vegetables, and meats that you buy in jars or make yourself.
When your baby is 7 to 10 months old, you can try bite-sized foods, such as Cheerios, pieces of bread, well-cooked pasta, avocado, cheese, fruits and meats cut up for easy chewing. Your pediatrician will be your best source of advice about what to feed your baby and when, and what to do if you hit a snag--if, say, your baby rejects certain foods or suddenly starts eating less (not unusual when a baby is teething). At each well-child visit, starting at about 4 months, you'll probably get a new list of foods your baby can eat and a list of what to avoid, such as peanut butter. (It's generally a no-no until at least age 2.) You may be told to introduce foods one at a time to make sure your baby isn't allergic to them. Always supervise your child when she's eating.
Let your pediatrician be your guide about what to feed your baby and when to move to the next stage. Compare the ingredients and nutritional value of commercial baby food and always check "use-by" dates listed on the label or lid. If the date has passed, don't buy or use the food. All baby food jars have a depressed area, or "button," in the center of the lid. Reject any jars with a popped-out button--an indication that the product has been opened or the seal broken. Do the same for any jars that are sticky, stained, or cracked. If budget is the bottom line, buy the cheapest baby food according to your baby's age and stage by comparing unit prices in the store and stocking up on sale items.
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