A Solid Start: Introducing Baby to Solid Foods
Everything you need to know to begin your child on baby foods and other solids.
There’s nothing more adorable than a picture of a happy baby contentedly smearing food on his face -- and everywhere else. (Until it’s time to clean up, of course.) Starting your baby on solid food can be fun, playful, and messy!
For some parents, introducing solid foods can also be confusing. When should you start? How much should you offer? What comes first?
Feeding baby solids doesn’t need to be a challenge. There are just a few simple rules and milestones to keep in mind to make sure your baby’s food is just right to grow on.
Baby’s First Foods: When to Introduce Solids
When today’s parents were small babies, pediatricians often recommended starting them on cereal and other solid foods at just a few weeks old. “It’ll help him sleep through the night!” they were told.
Now we know that’s not true, and for most babies, cereal in a bottle at 6 weeks is no way to start solids. (Some babies with bad reflux may benefit from cereal in a bottle, however. Ask your pediatrician.)
Between the ages of 4 and 6 months, most babies are developmentally ready to get their first taste of solid foods. At this point, they lose the extrusion reflex that is beneficial for sucking a breast or bottle but can shove a spoonful of baby cereal right back out.
Starting Solids: How to Know When Your Baby Is Ready
Here are some signs that your child is ready to try solids:
- She can sit up (with support) and can hold her head and neck up well.
- Her birth weight has doubled.
- She’s interested in what you’re eating and may even try to grab food from your plate.
- She can keep food in her mouth rather than letting it dribble out.
- She shows signs of being hungry for more than she’s getting by clamoring for more when her bottle is empty or wanting to nurse more often.
“The pendulum has swung back and forth a lot on when to start solids,” says Jennifer Shu, MD, a pediatrician in Atlanta and co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality and Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup.
“We now know that 4 to 6 months seems to be the best time, when the baby’s digestive system can handle solids and they don’t impact allergies for the worse,” Shu tells WebMD. “If you wait until your baby’s much older than 6 months, she may reject the texture.”
“My son started at 5 1/2 months, and he was so ready!” says Erika Radtke, the mother of a 4-year-old son and newborn daughter in Carlsbad, Calif. “He stretched his mouth wide open like a baby bird's when we started him on cereal, and he had no problem swallowing. At that age, it's really just for practice and for learning to eat solid food. And it's fun! Who doesn't want that money shot of their little baby with goop all over their face, bib, clothes, and high chair and none of it in their mouth?”
Some experts cite another important reason to start solid foods by 6 months: That’s when babies’ natural stores of iron begin to deplete, and some babies may not get enough iron in their liquid diets to replace them. (There is more iron in formula than in breast milk, but the iron in breast milk is more readily absorbed.) Iron-fortified baby cereals are a good early source of iron, but once your baby is eating a variety of foods, there are several iron-rich options, including meats, beans, and spinach.