Starting solids is one of the great milestones in a baby’s first year of life. While infants’ natural curiosity means they’ll be attracted to everything going into your mouth, there is good reason to limit what you let them put into theirs. Once babies show signs of readiness around the six-month mark, go ahead and let them explore a variety of new tastes and textures. But keep in mind this list of foods, which most pediatricians and health experts agree should be avoided until after your baby turns one.
It’s sweet and all natural but also a potential source of Clostridium botulinum spores, which can multiply in baby’s intestines and develop into infant botulism. Mature digestive systems of older toddlers can fight off this type of botulism, but consequences to babies up to a year old are serious. Constipation, floppy movements, weak cries and difficulty sucking from the breast or bottle are all signs of infant botulism. Dark and light corn syrups and other liquid natural sweeteners (e.g. agave nectar, maple syrup) pose a similar risk and should also not be offered to babies. Use pureed fruit as a sweetening alternative instead. And watch out for sneaky sources of honey, such as cereals and graham crackers — although the honey in these foods is processed, it may not be pasteurized.
Stick to breast milk or formula during the first year of life. Straight-from-the-carton cow’s and soy milk contain proteins your baby can’t yet digest and minerals that can damage their still-developing kidneys. Moreover, some little ones can’t handle the lactose in milk and other dairy products, while others are born allergic to the protein, which can cause diarrhea and other symptoms of allergy. Cow’s milk has been known to make some young ones’ intestines bleed, putting them at risk for iron deficiency anemia. During those times when nursing or a bottle isn’t an option, give your little one a sippy cup of water instead.
3. Peanut Butter
Like the nut it is made from, peanut butter can cause serious allergic reactions. What new parents often don’t realize, though, is that a spoonful of the thick, sticky stuff is also a choking hazard — and one not easily dislodged with the Heimlich maneuver. Skip the PB&J and other nut butter sandwiches for your little guys, and keep an eye on them around their older siblings’ lunch — 9-month-olds may be young, but they’re also quick! If your new toddlers insist on peanut butter in their second year, be sure to spread bread or crackers with only a thin layer. Or cut the consistency by stirring in a little applesauce.
4. Some vegetables
Cooked and pureed (or even offered raw), some common vegetables such as beets, spinach, fennel, collard greens and lettuce contain levels of nitrates too high for your baby to process. Babies under a year old don’t have strong enough stomach acids to break down the nitrates, which block the blood’s ability to transport oxygen. This can lead to dangerously low levels of oxygen, known as Blue Baby Syndrome. You probably weren’t going to serve your little one a salad, but also skip the sauteed leafy greens too. Stick to cooked squashes, sweet potatoes, peas and other (soft) high-vitamin, low-nitrate veggies.
5. Some fish
Mercury levels in mackerel, shark, swordfish and tuna are too high to be consumed by children under a year old. If you’re angling to get them some kind of seafood other than Goldfish crackers, start with white fish like flounder, cod, haddock or sole — taking care to remove all bones before serving — no more than once a week. Families with a history of seafood allergies should hold off on any fish until after the child turns 1 or 2 and shellfish until they are 3. Oysters and lobster in particular can induce deadly allergic reactions, so wait until your child is 3, even if there is no history of allergies.
6. Berries & citrus
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries contain a protein that is hard for infants and early toddlers to digest. Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, are highly acidic and can cause an upset stomach and rashes in the diaper area or even on baby’s back or face. It’s best to wait until after the first year to introduce these popular, healthful snacks and juices. But if you must, offer just a little at a time — making sure to cut berries into very small pieces to prevent choking and diluting juice with water — and watch for a reaction.
Babies don’t need much salt in their diet — less than 1 gram a day. Breast milk and formula have all that they need. Your one-year-old’s kidneys aren’t developed enough to cope with large amounts of sodium, so avoiding added salt is important. If your plan is to give baby mashed up bowls of the family’s dinner, be sure to remove a cooked portion before seasoning for the rest. Keep in mind, too, that many processed foods, especially ones not formulated for babies, contain too much sodium for babies and should be avoided. This includes a lot of boxed and dry flake cereals (which can also be choking hazards), so be sure to read the labels.
8. Seeds & Nuts
Seeds and nuts should be avoided in the first year for a couple of reasons: Not only are they highly allergenic, but they’re also one of the most common foods to cause choking injuries and deaths. A one-year-old’s airway is still very small, so even something as tiny as a sunflower seed could become easily lodged in the throat. In fact, sunflower seeds are the 9th most common choking hazard for kids under 5, according to a 2008 study. If it’s a protein boost you’re after, offer a cooked egg yolk or cubes of tofu.
Sweet and filled with nutrients, grapes are a good snack for kids, but not until they’re older. The skin is difficult to break down completely, and the firmness and size of the fruit make them a serious choking hazard. Even cut in half, these fruits pose a risk to babies and young toddlers, as do the smaller, dried version: the raisin. Stick with bananas or cooked down apples and pears to get your new eaters their fruit fix.
10. Egg whites
Babies love eggs, but severe allergic reactions to eggs, especially egg whites, are extremely common. If you really want to give your baby eggs, separate the whites and cook the yolks thoroughly (or boil the eggs and peel away the whites before serving). As with any commonly allergic foods, introduce it alone. That way, you’ll be able to pinpoint what exactly has caused the reaction.
Any baby would love to gorge on a bit of chocolate, but as soothing as a square is to you, the caffeine in chocolate could have the opposite effect in your baby. Also, the dairy in chocolate can be difficult for children under a year old to digest. And in the form of M&M’s or other candies, there’s a choking risk as well.
12. Raw Carrots
Like grapes, the size and firmness of raw carrots are the 3rd biggest choking hazard for young kids. Baby carrots, especially, are just the right size to get stuck in their throats. Mash softened carrots that have been cooked in water is the safest way to give baby a daily dose of beta carotene. Also, hold out on celery and raw apples until she’s got enough back teeth to really chew like a bunny.
13. Hot Dogs
A 2008 study found that for kids as old as 5, hot dogs caused more choking injuries and deaths than any other food item. Even cut into nickel-shaped discs, hot dogs caused trips to the emergency room and worse. Kids under one year old shouldn’t be offered hot dogs. Period. For older children, the meat should be cut lengthwise and then sliced. In addition to causing injury, hot dogs, like other processed meats, contain nitrates, which can cause low levels of oxygen in young children, whose underdeveloped digestive systems are unable to break the nitrates down.
It’s a crunchy, healthy snack, but also a serious choking hazard for young kids. While the outer bits of a popped kernel break off easily, the center of each piece is firm and doesn’t dissolve. Parents should never give popcorn to children younger than 12 months. In fact, hospitals see so many cases of young children who have choked on a piece of popcorn that pediatricians recommend holding off on the snack until a child is at least 4 years old.
15. Hard candy & gum
Hard candies, including lollipops, are best delayed until a child is old enough to brush his own teeth. Yes, this makes leaving some restaurants a nightmare, especially if older siblings are allowed to enjoy an after-dinner sucker. So keep a stash of beloved animal crackers in your purse and ask the older ones to please be discreet. Gum, which requires back teeth for chewing and coordination to keep from accidentally swallowing or choking on, is too advanced to be a safe trade-off.
A significant portion of the population has allergies to wheat and/or soy. If your family has a history of these allergies, especially a history of gluten intolerance known as “celiac disease,” some pediatricians are recommending parents wait until baby is a year old to introduce foods made from these crops. This means holding back on conventional breads and pastas, and most baby cereals and crackers. You can look for gluten-free options, but they may contain other ingredients you’re avoiding, like salt, if they’re not specifically formulated for young kids. Some brown-rice pastas might work, if you’re looking for bits of something on which your baby can practice her pincher-grasp.