Spoon Feeding Baby: When and What to Begin With

As parents, when it becomes time to feed our infants it can be intimidating and confusing. When my pediatrician told me it was time to start spoon-feeding my children, I became nervous. Questions about how much do I feed them, how often do I feed them, will they choke, what utensils should I use all came into play.

The truth is, moving slowly it all comes natural and we work it out. Nevertheless, here a few tips to guide you in your journey along the way:

  1. Traditionally, initial feedings are recommended with cereals. The cereals should be prepared with a thin consistency using the milk/formula your infant is accustomed to eating. The first few feeds your child is expected to spill out of the mouth. Bottle feeds are successful because the infant uses their tongue to pump front to back to extract the milk from the bottle. This same strategy will be used to spoon feed. With each feed, thicken the cereal by adding more cereal to the milk. With time the tongue will retract and your baby will start to eat more food than spill it out of their mouth. Spoon-feeding is recommended between 4-6 months.
  2. Following cereal feeding, stage one food is recommended. Allergists recommend waiting 3-5 days prior to introducing new foods. This is for determining if allergies are present and easily narrowing down what is causing the reaction. Traditional recommendations suggested starting vegetable before sweet to reduce the sweet tooth. When starting vegetables, it is recommended to start with a milder tasting vegetable such as sweet potato, squash, carrots, peas or green beans. It has been proven to take upwards of 34 tries before a baby is able to determine if she likes or dislikes a food.
  3. Stage two follows stage one with the primary difference of amounts and variety/combinations.
  4. After stage two foods, the assumed direction would be stage three; however, this is very dangerous for an infant. We do not recommend feeding a baby stage three foods following stage two. This sets a child up to choke and resist texture. Rather, the suggestion to move from stage two to mashed foods is made. Mashed foods are soft foods that allow a fork to mash them into a thin liquid type quality. As your child masters the thinner quality, begin mashing food less and less. Examples of mashed foods are: mashed potatoes, steamed carrots, banana, avocado, steamed apples.
  5. Biter toys are important in this phase too. Biter toys help move the gag reflex posterior, strengthen the jaw and teach the tongue to move to the side; thus, introducing the motion of chewing. As your child becomes older and begins to start to crawl, there are wonderful biter biscuit type foods that facilitate the same motion using nutritive pathways.
  6. Meanwhile, introducing your child to meltable solids is a great way to introduce texture. Meltable solids should be longer- about the size of Q-Tip and should melt when smashed by the tongue to the roof of the mouth. Examples of meltable solids include: cheese puffs, vegi sticks, gerber cheese curls, pirate bootie, baby mum mums.
  7. Once meltable solids don’t elicit a gag and your child is safely mashing the food up, you are safe to introduce foods that crumb. Examples of foods that crumb include ritz crackers, graham crackers, some cereals.
  8. Around one year of age, soft table foods can be introduced. Soft table foods include pancakes, ground meat, steamed vegetables, pasta, rice, small bites of bread.
  9. Only after you have mastered all these steps can stage three be introduced. However I caution you from relying too heavily onto stage three foods as they contain less nutrition and calories than table foods but more preservatives.

Initially solid foods are used for practice or learning. Their purpose is to teach the baby how to eat more nutritive food. Generally, they contain very little calories and very little nutrition. For that reason, these foods should be given after the bottle or breast and should never substitute for a meal. While pediatricians say you can allow your baby to guide the amount of food consumed, here a few guidelines:

  • Reduce the amount given if bottle or breast feeds are being reduced

Watch for the baby’s communication to determine if more food is desired:

  • Wants more: lean towards you, maintain eye contact, open for food, happy demeanor
  • Wants to stop: breaks eye contact, moves away, turns head, locks mouth, wanders attention

A 6-8-month-old should generally have:

  • 3-5 bottles, 6-8 ounces each
  • 2 servings of grains, 2-3 Tablespoons each serving
  • 2 servings of fruit, 2-3 Tablespoons each serving
  • 2 servings of vegetable, 2-3 Tablespoons each serving
  • 1 serving of meat, 1-2 Tablespoons each serving

Cup drinking should be introduced around 6 months of age. Introduce the cup with water and for the initial few presentations, remove the plug. Just put a little amount of water into the cup so it doesn’t flood your baby. After they have mastered the cup, put the plug back in and teach them to suck out of it. As they get older, make sure you are varying the types of cups presented in order to prevent future articulation errors, dentition malocclusions and the perseveration of immature reflexes. With all cups make sure they do not encourage your child to tilt their head back as this will set them up to choke.

There are some old fashion myths that have come under scrutiny over the past few years. I’ll let you negotiate with your pediatrician based on your comfort zone but I will alert you to the guidelines — albeit old fashion. And as always, consult your doctor first prior to introducing foods.

  1. Certain foods are not recommended until specific ages: honey/strawberries- one year; egg whites- one year; shellfish- six months.
  2. However, in 2008, the AAP released a report stating that there’s probably no reason to wait to introduce allergenic foods until your baby reaches a certain age. When trying new foods, watch for signs of a food allergy: swelling of the tongue, lips, and face; skin rash; wheezing; abdominal cramping; vomiting; and diarrhea. If your baby seems to be having trouble breathing, has swelling of the face or lips, or develops severe vomiting or diarrhea after eating, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
What was the first food you gave or plan on giving to your baby?

—Anna Hurley, M.A. CCC-SLP, Beaumont Children’s Speech Center

2 Responses to “Spoon Feeding Baby: When and What to Begin With”

  1. 1 Sarah Jo Sautter June 21, 2012 at 10:05 am

    I fed pureed avocado to both of mine first. It seemed more nutrient-dense than rice. And I’m thankful I did. I later found out that my youngest child is allergic to rice.

  2. 2 Kareen Donegan June 21, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    avocado is one of my favorite baby foods- so easy to mash, nutritious and tasty!

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