How to Start Your Baby on Solid Foods

Your baby watches you eat, and you swear it seems like they want to get in on the action. They open their mouth and reach for your food. Could it be time to start them on solids?

If your baby is between 4 and 6 months old, can hold their head up, and can sit in a high chair independently, then they are 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 them with the best nutrition.)

If you try feeding them 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 an iron-fortified cereal product, because at this stage in their development, they need iron to stay healthy.

To make it, you'll mix some of the powdered cereal with breast milk or baby formula. Over time, as they are 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 they 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 their 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 them, so they know that they should enjoy solid food. Make it an exciting adventure!

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

You may want to give them food when the rest of the family eats, to make them feel that they are a part of the group. Bonus: they'll learn good habits when they see 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 them 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 they eat. 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 at least 6 months old.

If someone in your family has a food allergy, check in with your doctor to discuss any specific questions/concerns when it comes to introducing allergenic foods to your baby.

 

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. They'll still get most of their calories from breast milk or baby formula. Even a few bites of solid foods are good practice. Remember, right now they are just getting used to the idea of solid foods. They are getting the nutrition they need from breast milk or formula. By the time they are 9 to 12 months old, they'll eat three solid-food meals a day in addition to breast milk or formula.

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

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Finger Foods to Try

When your baby can grasp food with their fingers and bring it to their mouth, they can try finger foods. Be sure that anything they put in their 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. Breast milk and baby formula contain the proper mix of vitamins, nutrients and fats for growing babies, and cow's milk does not. Also, babies under 1 year old can't fully digest cow's milk, which can cause stomach woes and kidney problems. Other dairy products, like cheese and yogurt, are OK to use as occasional snacks.
  • Honey. Don't serve honey until age 1. 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 Dan Brennan, MD on July 21, 2021

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.”

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