Introducing Solid Foods to Your Baby
For months now your baby has thrived with just breast milk or formula on the menu. Now that she's getting bigger, you’ve probably got some questions: When is the best time for my baby to start eating solid foods? What’s the best way to introduce them? What are the best first foods to give? Read on to learn everything about introducing solids and how to navigate this new and exciting period in your baby’s development.
Is Your Baby Ready to Start Solid Foods?
Breast milk or formula is the most important and consistent component of your baby's diet in the first year. But, typically, around the time your little one turns 6 months old, he will be ready to start on solid foods alongside breast milk or formula.
You’ll want these first solid foods to be similar in texture to breast milk or formula. This gives your baby a chance to get used to them. That's why infant cereals or single ingredient purees are good choices, as they are just slightly thicker than breast milk or formula.
To ease the transition from breast milk or formula to solid foods, start by giving your baby some breast milk or formula, then a small spoonful or two of an infant cereal or puree, and then go back to the breast milk or formula. In time, he'll discover that this new solid food is just as pleasurable as the liquid diet he had been getting up until now, and you can gradually increase the amount of solid food you feed him.
After your baby is accustomed to infant cereals and pureed foods, you can begin offering foods with a chunkier texture. Eventually you can work your way up to table foods or finger foods, which you’ve cut up into small pieces that he can easily pick up and eat.
If you’re unsure about when to start your baby on solid foods, the 4-month checkup is a great opportunity to consult his healthcare provider. The provider may suggest you watch out for the following signs that your baby may be ready to start on solid foods:
Your baby has doubled his birth weight and weighs at least 13 pounds. This typically happens around the time he turns 4 months old.
He doesn't push his tongue out at a spoon when you try to feed him. Your baby will probably have this tongue thrust reflex up until 4 or 5 months of age.
He holds his head up on his own and sits upright easily with some support
Your baby follows food with his eyes and makes mouthing movements when he sees others eating.
Which Solid Foods Should You Start With?
Traditionally, infant cereals have been the first foods introduced to babies, followed by single ingredient purees of vegetables, fruits, and then meats. However, there is no medical evidence suggesting that there’s any advantage to keeping to a certain order when introducing new foods, or that any particular food has to be first. So it’s really up to you.
You may want to check with your baby’s healthcare provider, who may suggest introducing vegetables before fruits or have some other nugget of advice.
Here are the solid foods that you can introduce to your baby:
Infant cereals. Iron-fortified, single-grain cereals such as oat, barley, or rice cereals are good options to start with, and many babies enjoy them. Just avoid giving only rice cereal as it can expose your baby to too much arsenic. Either choose the premixed infant cereals from the jar, or mix the dry kinds with a little breast milk, formula, or water. Start by feeding your baby with one or two teaspoons of cereal. As the days go by and you see him liking it you can make the consistency thicker and offer him more.
Pureed vegetables, fruits, and meats. You can also begin with a pureed vegetable, pureed or mashed fruit like a banana, or even unsweetened applesauce. Try pureed meats, too, which can be beneficial for a baby’s diet as they are high in zinc and iron, nutrients that babies need at 6 months old.
Finger foods. Around the time your baby learns to sit upright independently, which is often at around 8 months of age, you can introduce finger foods. These are table foods that you’ve cut up into small pieces that are easy to pick up. Offer him foods that are soft and easy to swallow (avoid foods that may be a choking hazard) like cooked cut-up sweet potatoes, cooked green beans, diced meat, cubes of bread, sliced banana, pasta, scrambled eggs, or crackers. Avoid foods that require chewing.
Homemade baby food. An alternative to store-bought jarred baby foods is making your own baby food at home. A baby food maker, blender, or food processor (or sometimes just a fork) is all you need to create food with the right consistency for your baby’s needs—pureed when he’s starting out and chunkier in the later months. Don’t add salt or seasoning to the food you prepare. Be aware that homemade baby foods will spoil faster than store-bought jarred baby food, so don’t store leftovers for too long in your refrigerator. Instead, consider freezing extra batches.
10 Tips for Introducing Solid Foods to Your Baby
Here are some tips for the best ways to introduce solid foods to your baby:
Offer solid foods when your baby is slightly hungry. Find a time of day when your baby is in a good mood and slightly hungry so that she’ll be more inclined to try solid foods. Eventually, as your baby gets older, she’ll want to join the rest of the family for mealtimes, which, in fact, is recommended as it can have a positive effect on her development.
Sit your baby upright. This is important for reducing the risk of choking. You can either support her in your lap or, if she’s able to sit well (which often happens at about 6 or 7 months of age), you can put her in a high chair with a safety strap.
Introduce one food at a time. Wait between three to five days before introducing new foods to your baby’s diet. This is to check that she doesn’t have a food allergy to any of these never-before-eaten foods. If after feeding her a certain food you notice diarrhea, a rash, or vomiting, stop giving that food and consult your baby’s healthcare provider. If there’s a history of food allergies in your family, consult your provider before trying out that particular food. Milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans are among the most common food allergens. Once your baby has tried a variety of different foods separately, and there has been no adverse reaction, feel free to mix two different foods together.
Introduce drinking from a cup. If your baby is thirsty, you can give her small sips of water after she’s 6 months old (up until then his only liquids should be either breast milk or formula). Water is recommended by medical experts because it’s the healthiest option, and getting your baby used to water early on will have health benefits in the long run. Around 6 months old is also a good time to start teaching your baby how to drink from a cup. Give her liquids in a cup with two large handles and a spouted lid, like a sippy cup.
Dish out servings. It’s not a good idea to feed your baby directly from the baby food jar as this can lead to contaminating whatever remains in the jar. Instead remove a small amount from the jar to a dish and feed your baby from that. You'll need to discard any leftovers in the dish, but you can refrigerate the contents remaining in the jar for another mealtime.
Start with a small spoon. Never put solids in a bottle unless your child’s healthcare provider has recommended it. Use a small coffee spoon or a rubber-coated baby spoon so you don’t hurt your baby’s lips or mouth. Start with a small amount of food, even less than half a spoonful. It also helps to give your little one a utensil to hold while you feed her. This can eventually encourage her to start self-feeding at around 8 or 9 months of age.
Sell it like a salesperson. Talk to your baby during the feeding process, and feel free to narrate what’s happening: “Look at this yummy food coming your way!” She may be confused as to what’s going on, but helping her become familiar with the food and encouraging her with your voice can convince her to give it a try.
Look for signs that your baby is full or not interested in eating. If she starts crying or turns away from you during one of these feedings, don’t force it. It could be that she’s full, or that she just doesn’t want any food at the moment. You could try feeding her solid foods at another time when she may be more receptive. If it’s one of her first feedings, it could be that she’s not quite ready to start solid foods yet, so you could return to only breastfeeding or formula-feeding for a little longer.
Don’t worry about the mess. At first, more food will end up on the floor, on your little one’s bib, on your baby’s cheeks, and pretty much anywhere but in your baby’s mouth, which is OK. Increase the size of each feeding gradually, giving your baby the chance to get accustomed to this new concept of swallowing solid food.
Stay with your baby during mealtimes. For your baby’s safety and to reduce the risk of choking, always be there when your baby tries solid foods.
Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Baby
Here’s a list of the foods and beverages you should avoid giving your baby:
Don't offer foods that could become a choking hazard, such as o hot dogs, meat sticks, or sausages o chunks of meat or cheese o fish with bones o nuts and seeds, including nut butters o cooked or raw corn kernels and popcorn o whole pieces of canned fruit o whole grapes, berries, cherries, grape tomatoes, or melon balls o raw vegetables o chunks of raw fruit o dry fruit such as raisins o cookies or granola bars o potato or corn chips, pretzels, and other snack foods o crackers or breads with seeds, nuts, or whole-grain kernels o whole-grain kernels such as rice, barley, or wheat o hard, gooey, or sticky candy o chewing gum o marshmallows
Do not give honey and corn syrup until after her first birthday, as these can contain spores that can cause infant botulism
No cow’s milk until after her first birthday, as your baby can't properly digest it before then.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The Bottom Line
Introducing solids is a big milestone for your little one. A whole new world of flavors, textures, and smells is opening up for him. Before long, your baby will get the hang of how to take small bites, chew, rest between bites, and even self-feed with a spoon.
Whenever it’s possible, have family meals together, as it can have a positive effect on your baby’s development, and mealtimes can be a special bonding time for the whole family. If you have any questions about your baby’s diet or healthy development, including how to handle a picky eater, consult your baby’s healthcare provider.
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How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.