Is juice OK?

Juice isn't a necessary part of a baby's diet, and it's not as valuable as whole fruit. Too much juice might contribute to weight problems and diarrhea, as well as thwart your baby's appetite for more-nutritious solid foods. Sipping juice throughout the day or while falling asleep can lead to tooth decay.

If you offer juice, wait until your baby is at least 6 months or older. Make sure the juice is 100 percent fruit juice. Limit the amount your baby drinks to 4 to 6 ounces (118 to 177 milliliters) a day — about one food serving of fruit — and serve it in a cup. Juices containing vitamin C might improve your baby's absorption of iron.

Know what's off-limits

Certain foods are not appropriate for babies. Consider these guidelines:

  • Don't offer cow's milk or honey before age 1. Cow's milk doesn't meet an infant's nutritional needs — it isn't a good source of iron — and can increase the risk of iron deficiency. Honey might contain spores that can cause a serious illness known as infant botulism.
  • Don't offer foods that can cause your baby to choke. As your baby progresses in eating solid foods, don't offer hot dogs, chunks of meat or cheese, grapes, raw vegetables, or fruit chunks, unless they're cut up into small pieces. Also, don't offer hard foods, such as seeds, nuts, popcorn and hard candy that can't be changed to make them safe options. Other high-risk foods include peanut butter and marshmallows.

Preparing baby food at home

Another reason to avoid giving your baby solid food before age 4 months is the risk associated with certain home-prepared foods. A baby younger than age 4 months should not be given home-prepared spinach, beets, carrots, green beans or squash. These foods might contain enough nitrates to cause the blood disorder methemoglobinemia.

Make meals manageable

When feeding your baby, give him or her your full attention. Talk to your baby and help him or her through the process. In addition, to make mealtime enjoyable:

  • Stay seated. As soon as your baby can sit easily without support, use a highchair with a broad, stable base. Buckle the safety straps.
  • Encourage exploration. Your baby is likely to play with his or her food. Although it's messy, hands-on fun helps fuel development. Just make sure that finger foods are soft, easy to swallow and broken down into small pieces.
  • Introduce utensils. Offer your baby a spoon to hold while you feed him or her with another spoon. As your baby's dexterity improves, encourage your baby to use a spoon.
  • Offer a cup. Feeding your baby breast milk or formula from a cup at mealtime can help pave the way for weaning from a bottle. Around age 9 months, your baby might be able to drink from a cup on his or her own.
  • Dish individual servings. If you feed your baby directly from a jar or container, saliva on the spoon can quickly spoil leftovers. Instead, place servings in a dish. Opened jars of baby food can be safely refrigerated for two to three days.
  • Avoid power struggles. If your baby turns away from a new food, don't push. Simply try again another time. Repeated exposure can help ensure variety in your baby's diet.
  • Know when to call it quits. When your baby has had enough to eat, he or she might cry or turn away. Don't force extra bites. As long as your baby's growth is on target, he or she is likely getting enough to eat. Also, don't try to get your baby to eat as much as possible at bedtime to get him or her to sleep through the night. There's no evidence that this works.

Enjoy your baby's sloppy tray, gooey hands and sticky face. You're building the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.

June 07, 2016 See more In-depth