The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies are exclusively breastfed (or formula fed) for at least six months, but some babies are ready to eat solid foods earlier than this. Many parents introduce solid food to their babies between 4 and 6 months. When you introduce solids to your baby is up to you, but age isn’t the only consideration you need to make. Your baby will also give you clues that he or she is ready to move beyond breast milk or formula.
Is Your Baby Ready for Solid Food?
When your baby is ready for solid foods, he or she will give you clear signs, including:
- Your baby can sit up without support. When your baby is able to keep his or her head upright without support, he or she is ready to eat solid foods. In order to swallow well, your baby needs to have the ability to sit in an upright position.
- No “extrusion reflex.” You should wait to introduce solids if your baby still has the tongue-thrust reflex (called the “extrusion reflex”), in which he or she automatically pushes solids out of his or her mouth with the tongue. Once this reflex disappears, your baby will be able to keep solid food in his or her mouth and swallow it.
- Ready to chew. If your baby is making chewing motions with his or her mouth, it’s time to introduce solids.
- Growing appetite. Your baby is also ready for solid foods if he or she seems hungry, despite eight to ten feedings (formula or breast milk) every day.
- Interested in what you’re eating. If you notice that your baby is becoming more aware and curious about what you’re eating at mealtimes, it’s time to start him or her on solids. Some babies may even try to grab your food.
How to Start Feeding Baby Solids
When you are introducing solid foods to your baby, make sure that you continue to feed him or her breast milk and formula. Because babies don’t eat a lot of solids in the beginning, you need to consider solids as an addition to your little one’s diet, not a replacement for breast milk or infant formula.
Traditionally, moms have started their baby on single-grain, iron-fortified infant cereal (like rice cereal). Many parents recommend single-grain cereal, since it’s easier to identify food allergies with a single grain than a multi-grain cereal. But there’s no medical evidence that says that you have to stick to this “start with baby cereal” rule. For many babies, you can go ahead and introduce them pureed solid food – including applesauce, pureed sweet potatoes, squash, pears, bananas, and peaches.
Introduce one food at a time to see how your baby reacts. Wait at least three days after each food, so that you know how your baby’s body reacts to it. You’ll also know if your baby develops a food allergy to certain foods. Signs of food allergies in babies include vomiting, diarrhea, wheezing, a swollen face, and a rash.
The first time that you introduce solid food, make sure that you start by breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your baby. Next, let your child try a teaspoon or two of pureed solid food. If you’re feeding cereal, mix it with breast milk or formula so that you get a runny, semi-liquid consistency. (Once your baby gets used to eating cereal, thicken the consistency by adding less milk.)
To avoid hurting your baby’s gums, feed him or her with a plastic baby spoon.
The first few times that your baby eats solids, he or she isn’t going to be eating very much. Being fed by a soon is a new experience, so he or she will need time to get used to it. If your baby doesn’t seem to like eating off the spoon, allow him or her to smell and taste the food.
It’s important that you don’t force your baby to eat more than what they’re willing to. Your baby will give you signs that he or she is done eating solids. He or she may turn his or her head; spit out whatever food try to feed him or her; or cry.
When feeding your baby solids, avoid cow’s milk (like the type you drink) and honey. Babies have a difficult time digesting straight-up cow’s milk, and honey is not recommend for babies under age one, due to the risk of infant botulism.
At around 9 months old, your baby will have the ability to pick up small pieces of food with his or her fingers. This is the perfect age to start “finger foods” – like cooked pasta, cooked chunks of carrots, ripe banana pieces, cheese, and dry cereal.