The cutest photo ops are those of your baby happily smearing food all over his face and high chair. But before you hand over the spoon and grab the camera, take a minute to consider what you're putting on your little one's plate.
Since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your baby consume only breast milk or formula until four to six months of age, your baby's food options are limited until you're ready to introduce solids. Once your pediatrician has cleared you to start, it's tempting to see if your baby has inherited dad's French fry addiction or mom's love of strawberries.
But before you start offering new foods, educate yourself on which baby foods to avoid, and which culinary options will help your little one thrive. Some types of foods are dangerous even for older babies and toddlers, and should be avoided completely until at least two years of age.
Your baby's new or nonexistent teeth paired with slow reflexes creates a recipe for disaster when feeding foods that are too hard or too large for him to swallow. Joanna Dolgoff, M.D., pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatricians, warns that pieces of food larger than a pea can become lodged in a young baby's throat and pose a choking hazard.
- Avoid Circles. Round foods can cause problems, so cut grapes and cherry tomatoes into quarters or smaller before adding them to your baby's high chair tray. You can start feeding your little one larger chunks of soft—but not chewy—foods once he's reached the one-year mark, such as bananas and steamed sweet potatoes.
- Eat at the Table. Feeding your baby in the car is a dangerous habit that some time-pressed parents tend to fall into. While handing back a chicken nugget might save time when you're running late, your baby rides in a reclined position which puts him at a higher risk for choking. Dr. Jack Stewart, a Seattle-based doctor, warns, "You obviously can't supervise what they are putting their mouth, and your response time would be limited in the case of an emergency."
- Watch for the Signs. While feeding your baby, watch for some of the signs of choking, which include stopped breathing, a red face or a panicked look without noise. If your baby is choking on food, place his torso over your knee and thrust your palm upwards into his back until the food is dislodged.
Despite your efforts to lose the baby weight, keep your favorite reduced-fat cuisine away from your little one. While yogurt is a healthy and quick snack, the low-fat variety is one of the baby foods to avoid until age 4 or 5. According to Dr. Dogloff, your baby needs the full fat version of dairy foods like milk and yogurt to help aid in brain and body development during his first 2 years of life, so about half of his daily calories should come from fat sources. Don't lower the amount of fat he consumes until he reaches age 4 or 5, after which you can switch to milk and other products with lower fat contents.
The Dirty Dozen
According to the Environmental Working Group, there are certain fruits and vegetables are most often covered in harmful pesticides when they arrive at your grocery store, labeled the dirty dozen. The guilty culprits include apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, imported grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, domestic blueberries, lettuce and kale.
If you plan on feeding your baby any of the dirty dozen, always buy organic produce and scrub it well with water to ensure that any residual pesticides are completely removed.
Certain foods, such as peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, wheat and shellfish, pose a high risk of allergic reaction, especially in younger babies and toddlers.
In general, you should delay offering peanuts and tree nuts until age 1 for non food-sensitive children, but wait until your child's 2 years old if he has other allergies or is sensitive to certain dishes, says Dolgoff. While egg yolks are fine, egg whites can contain proteins that could cause an allergic reaction, so wait until your baby is 12 months old to try offering egg whites. Wheat is usually fine after 8 months, but shellfish should be delayed for 12. Of course, always check with your pediatrician before you offer foods that have a high instance of allergic reaction.
When you're ready to try a dish that may pose an allergy threat, such as peanut butter, offer a small quantity on its own so it's easier to pinpoint the cause of a possible reaction. Red spots, a swollen tongue and difficult swallowing are all earmarks of an allergy, so call your pediatrician immediately if you notice any symptoms.
Honey contains the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which are known to cause botulism, and should never be given to your little one until he's at least a year old. While a mature, adult digestive system can protect against bacterial spores, a baby's immature digestive system can't, so exposure to honey can be dangerous. Despite what your mother-in-law says, you'll never need to add honey or corn syrup to your baby's bottle for any reason. Corn syrup and molasses also contain bacteria, and are on the list of baby foods to avoid until he's 2 years old.
Allow your pediatrician to be your partner in deciphering which foods to give your baby. While you're probably excited to feed your baby from your plate, it's always best to go slow and offer just one or two new foods at a time. As your baby's digestive system matures after 2 years, it's usually fine to offer a wide variety of foods for a healthy diet and well-rounded palate.