The First Foods: The importance of iron

Studies say it’s important not to delay giving first foods to babies who around 6 months. This is the time when breast milk or formula might not meet your baby’s nutritional needs anymore. Providing enough iron at this stage is also very important [1,2]. Research also concludes not to delay in introducing common allergens since early exposure might actually reduce a risk of developing food allergies [9,10].

Food servings can gradually increase from just a few teaspoons to about two tablespoons, 1-2 times per day [1]. Over time, start to increase the portion of food and offer a wider variety. Babies at this age tend be more easily open to different kinds of foods. Those who eat a variety of ingredients are more likely to develop healthier eating habits later on.

What to do

  • Start Small: If your baby has only been drinking breast milk or formula, start by giving a soft and mild food first. Mix it with breast milk or formula. Over time, thicker and chunkier foods can be introduced.
  • Go For Iron: The latest studies recommend to introduce an iron-rich food as the first food. Make sure your baby is getting enough iron for optimal growth [1,2,3].
  • Track Allergies: Introduce a new food every 2-3 days to observe for any allergies. Once your child does well with one food, try something new, or pair the new food with one he/she already likes. Only serve one common allergen at a time [5,8].
  • Practice Responsive Feeding: If parents follow their infant’s hunger and satiety cues the infant will be more likely to develop healthier eating skills. [3]

What not to do

  • Don’t decrease breast milk or formula yet since it is still the primary source of nutrition for babies at this age [1].
  • Understand the rules for salt, sugar, and fat for babies: avoid adding salt and sugar and do not give babies at this age any juice or sweetened beverages [2,3].
  • Giving a baby milk at night might lead to teeth issues or unhealthy sleep habits. Offer warm water instead. [4]
  • Do not add baby cereal to a bottle - it can become a choking hazard [6]
  • Rice is a great weaning starter food, but only giving rice can be risky in the USA due to its exposure to arsenic [7]. Instead alternate rice with other grains such as oats and barley.