Four Months to One Year: Dietary Milestones
Babies change a lot between four and twelve months. During this critical period of growth, an infant's physical development not only affects what they eat, but how. In eight months, infants go from total dependence on breast milk or formula to consuming finger foods and drinking from a sippy cup while sitting up.
By the time she reaches her first birthday, your child will have the majority of her primary teeth. Her muscles will be stronger, and she will have gained greater control over them. She will be thrilled by what she can do with her body. You will witness your child's joy as she learns to roll over at about six months; moves on to crawling a few months later, and perhaps walking before the age of one; and when she grabs objects, including food, and attempts to get them into her mouth.
Brain development continues at a frenzied pace, and nutrition plays a huge role. A baby's babbling and cooing are important signs of language development that you should take seriously. Your child's gurgles and grunts are his attempt to communicate with you. Looking directly at your baby when talking to him, particularly at mealtimes, is a source of pleasure and provides positive stimulation that promotes cognition. Plus, conversing with baby goes a long way toward enhancing his language skills. Experts say babies understand what you are saying to them well before they can verbalize their own thoughts.
One of the most noteworthy nutritional milestones of a child's life occurs between four and six months of age. That's when you may first safely feed your child solid foods. Before four months, your baby's intestinal tract has not matured enough to handle the likes of infant cereal and pureed vegetables. Introducing foods before the recommended time raises the risk of food allergies. This is particularly true of children born to highly allergic families, even though food allergies are relatively uncommon. For more about food allergies, see Food Allergies and Intolerance.
Most children are developmentally ready to begin eating some solid food by six months of age. Your baby must be capable of supporting his own head to consume solids, even if he is not ready to sit up on his own. By about four to five months, babies no longer have the extrusion reflex, which is the natural urge to push anything but liquid from the mouth, so they are more accepting of a spoon. Also, between four and six months is when an infant's swallowing has improved to the point where he can handle semisolid foods such as fortified infant cereal, preferably mixed with formula or breast milk.
At six to eight months of age, most babies have begun mastering the pincer grasp, which develops when they use the muscles of their thumb and forefinger to pick up small objects. Providing safe finger foods during this time helps children strengthen their grasping skills and then to move on to actually getting the food into their mouth, which often occurs at seven to nine months.
In My Experience: There's No Rush for Solid Foods
Your child is four months old and you're eager to feed him cereal so he'll be bigger, stronger, or smarter. Relax. As long as you begin food between four and six months of age, you're doing fine by your baby. Hayley, my oldest, began eating iron-fortified infant cereal around four and a half months, but Hannah didn't begin until around the five-and-a-half-month mark. At the time each child began infant cereal, she was on a steady diet of a combination of breast milk and formula, so I knew that she was getting the necessary nutrition. Remember, each baby is different. Some children are simply more interested in eating than others. For others, taking nourishment from a spoon is so foreign that they need more time to accept the idea. Don't wait too long, however. Experts say that going much beyond six months before trying to get infants to accept solid foods makes it more difficult. Plus, it's nutritionally risky.
More on: Feeding and Nutrition
Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth M. Ward. Excerpted from Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.
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