Babies’ steady growth in height and weight is one of the best signs that they are healthy and getting the kind of care they need. It is the steadiness of the growth that counts, not how much it is or how fast it is. Most babies gain about one-half pound per week during the first few months of life and about one pound per month from 5 to 12 months. Smaller babies usually gain less, and larger babies may gain more. You don’t need a scale to tell. Your judgment and the regular medical check-ups are plenty. The most common cause of slow growth in young babies is being fed too little or too infrequently. Try offering your baby more frequent bottles or more milk in each bottle, and your baby will usually catch up very quickly. If not, check with your doctor.
Continue to feed either breast milk or an iron and vitamin enriched infant formula at least through the first 12 to 15 months. There is no reason to change to fresh dairy milk, which costs no less, requires refrigerator storage and can be less nutritious for many infants. Skim milk should not be used for infant feedings.
Your baby doesn’t need any food other than plenty of breast milk or formula for the first 6 months. But you may want to get your child accustomed to different tastes, textures and temperatures of foods before age 6 months. Whenever you decide to start “solids” or spoon foods, there are a few rules that will help you.
Start slowly. A few spoonfuls once or twice a day is plenty at first. The baby’s main nutrition should still come from milk, but feeding spoon foods, water, and juice gives you a good opportunity to play together and learn about each other.
Try just one new food at a time, and feed it every day for several days. Start with simple, pure foods. Use pure rice cereal, not mixed cereal; applesauce, not fruit dessert; lamb, not meat dinner. New foods may cause vomiting, diarrhea, or skin rash in a few infants. By starting only one new food every 4 or 5 days and by using simple foods you will know which food is the cause. Once the child has eaten a food for 3 or 4 days without any ill effects, you can use it anytime in the future without worrying.
Don’t spend much money on expensive baby foods. There is nothing special about the foods that are sold as baby foods except that they are finely strained. With a blender or by simple mashing with a fork, you can make “infant” foods of almost anything you are preparing for the rest of the family. Avoid canned fruits and vegetables which are not specially made for infants. They may contain too much salt or lead. Homemade infant foods should be refrigerated immediately. Infant desserts, meat and vegetable combinations, and meat dinners are especially expensive for their limited food value. Ready-cooked infant cereals are a good value. They are easy to prepare, and they contain iron and vitamins that are not found in adult cereals.
After 6 months of age, your baby needs nourishment from foods other than milk or formula. Feed no more than 25 to 30 ounces of formula a day and let your baby fill up on other foods. If even this much milk spoils the baby’s appetite for other nutritious foods, reduce the formula to as little as 16 ounces.
The best way to be sure that the diet is nutritious is to be sure that it satisfies your infant’s appetite and contains a wide variety of foods. In any 2- or 3-day period, in addition to milk or formula, a baby should have several servings from each of the following food groups:
- Fruits or fruit juices
- Vegetables—at least one serving of leafy green vegetables
- Meat, fish, poultry, eggs or cheese
- Bread, cereal, rice, crackers, spaghetti (whole-grain or enriched)
Candy, cookies, sugar, sweet desserts and soft drinks have little nutritional value. They are also bad for your baby’s teeth and they may spoil the appetite for more nutritious foods. Use them only occasionally or forget them altogether.
You can tell if a food is not being digested properly if it comes through in the bowel movements. If it does, chop finer or use other foods.
When you feed the baby table foods—foods that you prepare for the entire family—be sure they don’t contain chunks or stringy material which can choke a baby (no peanuts, raisins or popcorn; watch out for strings in celery and green beans).
Babies enjoy using their fingers to feed themselves. Encourage your baby to eat such “finger foods” as crackers, bits of bread or toast, bits of cheese or meat, or small bits of banana or peeled apple. Let the baby try drinking from a cup by 5 or 6 months old. Put just a little bit in the bottom of the cup at first, then increase the amount as your baby learns to drink more skillfully. Encourage your baby to hold the cup and the bottle during feedings—the sooner your baby learns this, the less you will have to help. Let your baby help you handle the spoon during feedings. If you sit behind your baby during feedings, your infant can hold onto the spoon or your hand and learn the movements needed to eat without your help. This may slow you down and make some mess, but your baby will be eating without your help sooner. By 9 or 10 months old, babies generally are able to eat most of the things cooked for the rest of the family. You will still have to mash up some of the vegetables and cut the meat, chicken, or fish into tiny bites.
Teeth and Their Care
The first teeth usually appear at about 6 months of age and the average 1-year-old has about 6 teeth. But don’t worry if teeth come by 3 or 4 months, or not until 12 or 13 months. Early or late teeth don’t seem to make any difference; babies can chew most foods with their gums!
When a tooth is coming through the gum, the gum may become red and sore, and the baby may seem irritable for a day or so. Sucking on something cold may help. Half of a baby aspirin every 3 to 4 hours may relieve the pain. Don’t use teething lotions or paregoric to rub the gums; they are often dangerous. And don’t blame fever, vomiting, or other signs of illness (other than mild fussiness, some spitting up, and slight change in bowels) on teething! If your child really seems sick, it is not “teething” that is causing it.
You can do three things to make sure that your child continues to have healthy teeth:
- Be sure that your water supply contains fluoride or that your baby is getting fluoride drops or fluoride pills—check with your dentist, doctor or clinic.
- Keep sugar off of the teeth. It causes tooth decay. Avoid food sweetened with sugar. Feed naturally sweet foods at meal times. Don’t leave the baby in a crib or playpen with a bottle of formula or juice. Both contain sugar and can keep the teeth bathed in sugar for hours.
- Clean the baby’s teeth as soon as they appear. Use a cloth or soft brush without toothpaste or powder. Clean the teeth at least once a day, and do it after each feeding if you can.