How to Start Your Baby on Solid Foods

Your baby watches you eat, and you swear it seems like she wants to get in on the action. She opens her mouth and reaches for your food. Could it be time to start her on solids?

If your baby is between 4 and 6 months old, can hold her head up, and can sit in a high chair independently, then she's ready to try eating. (If you breastfeed, ask your doctor if you should hold off on solid foods until your baby is 6 months old. The reason: to provide her with the best nutrition.)

If you try feeding her a small spoonful and the food just dribbles out, you may want to try again in a few weeks. Babies are born with a reflex that makes them push out their tongue when something is put in their mouth. Over time it goes away.

Which Foods First?

Most babies get their first taste of solid food from a spoon. When you think solid, you may not realize that first solid foods are pretty thin and runny.

Many parents choose to first offer their babies baby cereal (rice, oats, or barley). Choose a cereal product that's made just for babies. It’s like porridge and will have extra iron in it.

To make it, you'll mix some of the powdered cereal with breast milk or baby formula. Over time, as she’s able to handle thicker and thicker things, you can add less liquid.

No rule says that babies must eat cereal before any other type of food. Some doctors suggest pureed vegetables as an ideal first food. Others say that pureed fruits are fine. Ask your doctor for advice, and talk about any allergy or other concerns you may have. Unless your doctor has advice, pick a first food that makes you feel good about your choice.

Within a short period of time, your baby will try many different foods, so she won't miss out on anything for long. After a few months, your baby will eat cereals, grains, vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, egg yolks, and dairy products like yogurt and cheese.

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Make Mealtime Special

When you offer your baby her first bite of food, fill a baby-sized spoon halfway. Be sure to smile and coo and tell your baby what you're doing as you feed her, so she knows that she should enjoy solid food. Make it an exciting adventure!

If your baby is very hungry, she may not want to deal with new flavors and being fed with a spoon. Offer breast milk or baby formula first to ease her hunger. Then try to feed her solid foods.

You may want to give her food when the rest of the family eats, to make her feel that she's a part of the group. Bonus: she'll learn good habits when she sees other family members pause between bites and stop when they're full.

Watch for Allergies

For safety's sake, serve your baby only one new ingredient at a time. Each time you give her a new food to taste, wait 3 to 5 days before you offer another new one. This way, if your baby has a bad reaction -- a rash, an upset stomach, a food allergy -- it's much easier to figure which food may have caused the problem.

Serve new foods during the daytime, so you can watch for any reactions after she eats. These rules apply to all babies, not just those with food allergies in the family.

There are several foods that babies and children are more likely to be allergic to, such as peanuts, eggs, and shellfish.

In years past, doctors told parents to keep these foods away from babies, but new research has changed that thinking. Now, parents can serve eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (in butter form), wheat, shellfish, and other foods that are common allergens to babies as young as 4 to 6 months old.

The only time you might want to wait until your baby is older, and his doctor gives the OK, is if someone else in your family has a food allergy. If you’re worried, talk with your baby's pediatrician. Remember to wait a few days before you try a new food.

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How Much Should I Feed My Baby?

At first, a spoonful or two may be all that your baby wants to eat. That's OK. She'll still get most of her calories from breast milk or baby formula. Even a few bites of solid foods are good practice. Remember, right now she is just getting used to the idea of solid foods. She’s getting the nutrition she needs from breast milk or formula. By the time she's 9 to 12 months old, she'll eat three solid-food meals a day in addition to breast milk or formula.

How will you know she's full? Once she’s gotten the hang of eating, she'll turn her head, push away the spoon, play with her food instead of eating it, or even spit it out. Babies very rarely overeat. Don’t force her to finish if she’s showing you she’s full.

Finger Foods to Try

When your baby can grasp food with her fingers and bring it to her mouth, she can try finger foods. Be sure that anything she puts in her mouth is very soft and small. Good choices include small bits of very ripe banana, well-cooked potato, baby crackers that melt away, and thawed frozen peas. If you’re serving fruits, peel and cook them first. Otherwise babies can choke on them.

It's too dangerous for babies to chew on whole bagels, apples, or other hard foods, in case chunks break off. You can place hard foods inside a special mesh baby food holder, and your gnawing baby can enjoy the flavor and texture of hard foods without the risk of choking.

Foods to Avoid

There are some foods that you should never serve to a baby.

  • Cow's milk. Babies under 1 year old can't fully digest cow's milk, which can cause stomach woes and kidney problems. Breast milk and baby formula are easy to digest, and they contain the proper mix of vitamins and nutrients for babies. Other dairy products, like cheese and yogurt, are fine.
  • Honey. Don't serve honey until age 1. Some doctors say 2. It can cause botulism in babies.
  • Choking hazards. Babies can’t chew food, and they may choke on food that's round, hard foods, or foods wrapped in a peel or casing. Never give your baby whole grapes, chunks of apples, pieces of hot dogs, nuts, popcorn, or fruit with the skin on.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on June 01, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP, pediatrician; co-author, Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality.

Tamara S. Melton, MS, RDN, LD, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Bite-sized milestones: Signs of solid food readiness,” “Switching to solid foods,” “Why formula instead of cow's milk?”

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Preventing allergies: What you should know about your baby's nutrition.”

© 2015 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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