Starting your baby on solids
In four short months your baby may have gone from feeding for what seemed to be an endless span of time, to now barely finishing a meal without a dozen distractions. Someone walks into the room, a car horn beeps, the shadow of a tree moves across the wall and immediately your baby's attention is elsewhere. The only thing you can do is to limit distractions in a quiet, dark room, but babies can't help it - they've just realised how fascinating their surroundings are.
You may also notice that your baby is eating in larger quantities fewer times a day. While exclusively breastfed babies will still be feeding six to eight times a day, bottle-fed infants might only be drinking four or five times in a 24-hour period. For those still lactating, your breast milk has matured to include more fat and nutrients for your baby's growing body.
As for what baby is eating nowadays, the World Health Organisation recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, but many pediatricians and mums agree that some babies are eager and able to try solid food as early as four months (starting solids before four months can be harmful as the baby's digestive system is not mature enough to deal with eating solid food). There's no nutritional reason to push food onto your little one, so follow your baby's lead on when he or she is physically ready to take this big step. (However, waiting too long after the six-month mark can make it difficult for your baby to learn a new way to eat.)
Your baby might be ready if he is:
Able to fully control his or her head when propped to sit.
Able to physically eat food. Infants have a reflex that instinctively pushes out foreign objects, but this tends to go away around four months. Try feeding the baby a very small amount of rice cereal thinned with breast milk or formula. If the food is pushed right out, then your baby still needs more time.
Reaches for your plate or shows increasing interest in what you're eating.
Even if your baby seems to be ready, check with your doctor if there are any significant food allergies in your family. Although recent research doubts that delaying the introduction of certain foods is all that effective, it's generally advised to play it safe. If you think your baby might be a food allergy candidate, slowly and cautiously start introducing solids at six months.
What to introduce first
Most pediatricians agree that rice cereal is the best food for a baby to start with, mostly because it can be thinned with liquid and isn't likely to cause an allergic reaction.
This early in the game, you're basically just making a simple introduction to the concept of eating. Continue to feed as you normally would, offering one feeding of rice cereal whenever you think your baby will accept it.
Breastfeeding moms should add a feeding of cereal when milk supply is at its lowest, usually in the early evening.
Don't offer cereal when your baby is starving, irritable or overtired. The best approach is to first feed the baby a small amount of breast milk or formula enough to satiate his or her initial hunger while still leaving room for more.
Pour a small amount of rice cereal into a bowl and mix it with formula, expressed breast milk or water until it's a liquid-like substance (thicker than milk but thinner than paste).
Offer a small dab of the mixture from a soft-tipped spoon or right from a clean finger.
Prop your baby in a high chair or feeding seat (photo-op!) to avoid squirms and unnecessary messes. The seat might need to be padded with a blanket or pillow, but if your baby can't sit up in a chair at all then he isn't ready to eat solids.
Allow your baby to feel, mush and squish the food. Your baby might be more apt to accept cereal from a spoon if he already knows what it is.
Don't worry so much about the amount that your baby is eating since this is really just to practice eating in a chair and swallowing a more solid substance.
Stop when your baby says so. If he is turning away, refusing to open for yet another airplane, then call it quits.
Eventually as you add a variety of different tastes and textures, you'll increase the cereal's thickness to an oatmeal-like consistency. But for now, keep the mixture thin.
Once your baby's adapted readily to rice cereal you can slowly start to introduce pureed vegetables and fruits. Start with vegetables first as he may get used to sweet foods if he starts on fruits first. Don't add any salt, sugar or butter to your child's foods, pure, pureed fruits and vegetables are all he needs.
Written by Linda Drummond for Kidspot, New Zealand's leading pregnancy and parenting resource with additional information from The Children's Hospital at Westmead, The Australian Breastfeeding Association and the National Health and Medical Research Council.