There’s a reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of baby’s life. Breast milk gives baby some serious health benefits — everything from boosting brainpower to lowering the risk of some childhood cancers and decreasing the likelihood of food allergies, eczema and asthma. Considering all those perks, plus the fact that you two really have the hang of nursing, it’s understandable you’d prefer to just keep going without all that other stuff.
But now that baby’s made it to the magic age of six months, there are some compelling reasons to add solid foods to her diet, says Melissa Arca, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician in Roseville, California (check out her blog, Confessions of a Dr. Mom). “Infants’ iron stores start to deplete at six months, and iron-rich and fortified foods help fill this gap,” she explains. “Also, infants are so incredibly receptive to new tastes at this age. Their GI system has matured, they’ve lost that tongue thrust reflex that pushes food right back out and they’re interested in what you’re eating.”
Yep, giving baby three square meals a day before her first birthday can lay the groundwork for healthy eating habits for years to come. By introducing her to a variety of nutritious foods, you’re priming her taste buds for the good stuff, Arca says.
And no, baby doesn’t have to start off with rice cereal. Mashed or pureed fruits and veggies, like avocado and banana, make excellent first foods. Don’t feel that these new things are replacing the “perfect food” that is your breast milk — that’s still her most important source of nutrition while she’s exploring other flavors and textures.
Be warned that baby may refuse to eat certain foods. “Follow your baby’s lead and never force-feed or insist baby eat something she doesn’t seem interested in,” Arca says. “This should be fun, relaxing and a time of discovery.”
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