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What to Feed Your Baby in Year 1: Starting Solids

Start Solids at 4-6 Months

That's the recommended time to introduce solid foods -- usually rice cereal mixed with breast milk or formula, to start. But it's not just about age. Before starting solids, your baby should be able to sit up (with support), turn his head away, and make chewing motions. He should also be past the reflex that makes him spit out anything but liquid.

Keep Going With Breast Milk or Formula

Babies usually don't eat a lot of solid foods right away. So think of solids as something you’re adding to your baby's diet, not as a replacement for breast milk or formula. Remember, you're introducing solid foods, not totally changing your baby's diet. That will happen gradually.

Why Start With Rice Cereal?

You don’t have to -- there's no hard-and-fast rule about what solid foods you should give your baby first. It’s just that with a single-grain, iron-fortified infant cereal -- such as rice cereal -- it may be easier to notice any food allergies than with a cereal made from several grains. You may want to mix it with formula or breast milk to get a runny consistency at first, until your baby gets used to the new texture.

Eating Solids Takes Practice

It may seem like it’s something natural, but being fed by a spoon is new to your baby. Up until now, she’s only had a liquid diet. She’ll need practice to get used to the spoon and to the feel of having solid food in her mouth. So don't expect her to eat a whole lot -- maybe a teaspoon or two at a time -- when you start. Instead of trying to get her to eat a certain amount, focus on letting her get used to the experience.

Start Fruits and Vegetables, One at a Time

Fruits, vegetables, grains, and even pureed meats can all be on the menu for your baby. You may want to introduce them one at a time to see how your little one reacts. If your baby won't eat them at first, try again later. Tell your pediatrician if you think your baby might have any food allergies. Use soft baby food from a jar, or soften foods by heating or pureeing them. Put just enough on the spoon for your baby to swallow easily.

Avoid Milk and Honey

Most pediatricians say you should wait until after your baby's first birthday to start offering cow's milk. That’s because some babies may have a hard time digesting it before then. And, don't give honey to babies younger than 1 year (some pediatricians say up to 2 years). That’s because of a possible botulism risk that a baby's developing immune system can't fend off.

Stop When Baby's Ready to Stop

Your baby will let you know when he’s done eating. He might swat at the spoon, turn his head away, zip his lips tightly, spit out whatever you put in his mouth, or cry. Don't make him eat more than he wants. Kids will eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full. Honoring those instincts may help them avoid overeating now and when they get older.

Got a Fussy Eater? Don't Fret

Just because your baby doesn't immediately like a new food doesn't mean he’s doomed to be picky forever. Wait a few days and try again. And again. And again … It may take your child more than a couple of times before she’s ready to give peas a chance. Remember, you're a role model, so your baby may be more interested in foods she sees you eating and enjoying. But don't force your child to eat, and don't make a big deal about new foods.

It's Going to Get Messy

As your baby grows, he'll try to feed himself. Chances are, a good bit of food is heading for his face, hands, hair, bib, clothes, or high chair tray -- not to mention you or any surfaces within flinging range. Learning to eat solid food is a full-body, tactile experience for your baby. Put a mat underneath his highchair to catch some of the mess, dress accordingly, and be patient -- this phase won't last forever.

Try Finger Foods When Baby's Ready

Around 9 months or so, your baby will be able to pick up small pieces of soft table food to eat. You'll still need to spoon-feed for a while, and continue formula or breast milk. Some great "finger foods" include ripe banana pieces, cooked chunks of carrots, cottage cheese, well-cooked pasta, dry cereal, and scrambled eggs. Avoid choking hazards like hard candy, chips, raw vegetables, grapes or raisins, hard cheese, and whole hot dogs.

Reviewed by Kathy Empen, MD on August 11, 2011

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