The Complete Guide to Starting Your Baby on Solid Foods
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you begin your baby on solid foods somewhere around 4 to 6 months of age. For breastfed babies, this can be a little later and you can even exclusively breastfeed for the first year of life. Many people begin solid foods out of concern for providing iron for their baby which reaches an all-time low at about the age of nine months. This is why many baby cereals are fortified with iron.
This article will cover signs of your baby’s readiness for solid foods, the introduction of solid foods, and some suggested timeline information regarding what types of foods to start and when.
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Signs your baby may be ready for solid foods
Your baby should be ready to begin solid foods around the age of 4 to 6 months at about the time they are roughly double their birth weight. There are a few signs that they will begin to display that lets you know that they are interested in and ready for the introduction of solid foods.
Babies have a reflex (called the tongue-thrust reflex) that they are born with which causes them to push their tongue out of their mouth and expel anything that gets into their mouth. Around the age of 4 to 6 months, you will begin to notice that this tongue thrusting motion is not nearly as prevalent. This shows that they have the ability to move solid foods from the front to the back of their mouths and swallow it without their tongues thrusting the food right back out through their lips. This is one sign of solid food readiness.
Another sign is that your baby will become very interested in solid foods. They may reach out and grab for things that you are eating. They may grab something off of your plate and try to put in their mouth. If you offer a spoon of food to your baby they will open their mouths and look excited. This curiosity is a great sign that your baby is ready to begin sampling some solid foods with you at mealtime.
Your child should also be able to sit with little support and have good head control in order to begin solid foods. This helps them to have the body control that they need to work on the business of eating!
What supplies do you need to get started?
You don’t need to have a lot of supplies on hand to begin introducing your baby to solid foods. But you will want to get a few things.
- A highchair that your baby is comfortable in that allows your baby to sit up safely during mealtime.
- Some baby-safe spoons. These may be made of plastic or there may be a rubbery coating on the tip of the spoon. Make sure that you get brand new spoons for your baby to make sure that they meet the most current safety standards.
- You may use a fork to mash foods with or you may prefer to get a small blender that can purée vegetables into a soft, edible pudding or mashed potato-like texture for your baby.
- Small bowls or cups that have a handle on the side are easier for you to hold while feeding your baby. As your baby gets a bit older you could use small bowls or cups that suction to the tray table on the highchair. It’s a good idea to also get them a sippy cup that is comfortable for them to hold in their hands. They may want to sample with a sippy cup while they are having meal time with you.
- You will certainly want to get some type of bibs or cloths you can use to protect their clothing if you choose to feed your baby with their clothing on. You can always take off their clothing and let them eat wearing only their diaper if it is warm enough for them to do so. It is best to go ahead and get them used to wearing bibs so that when you are eating out in public you don’t have to strip down your baby to their diaper.
- Cloth diapers or some kind of soft cloth that you can use to wipe your baby’s mouth.
What kind of solid foods should you begin feeding your baby?
The CDC recommends the very first solid foods for babies as a variety of fortified infant cereals. Many people use rice-based infant cereal only which is now not the recommendation. If you are only using rice-based infant cereals then you are running a risk of introducing your baby to arsenic.
It is much more recommended by the CDC to use these rice-based cereals as part of your baby’s diet and not as the only infant cereal offered. There are infant cereals made from oat, multigrain, and barley and you should vary the infant cereals you offer to your baby to get the most benefit from the wider selection of sources. They are fortified with iron and other vitamins and minerals that are important for your baby’s overall health.
If the arsenic alarms you, as it should, here is an article about the connection between arsenic and rice or rice-based foods:
Infant cereals are easily mixed with water, formula, and early-stage baby food, or the most healthy option, breastmilk. Follow the package instructions to mix your baby’s cereal and begin by offering just a tablespoon at meals. You want the mixture to be smooth and easy for your baby to swallow.
For 4 to 6 months, the introduction of these grain cereals is plenty of solid food to offer your baby but you can also offer simple foods such as mashed bananas or mashed vegetables. You can purchase these in the form of baby food as well to save you from having to prepare them. For these early months, you want to keep it simple and introduce one food at a time.
Babies do not need to have a plate with multiple different foods offered at one time. For these early months, you will have one item to offer them in addition to their formula or nursing. You will begin to incorporate a tablespoon or two of these cereals three times a day at mealtimes and continue nursing or offering formula as you have been doing.
How can you tell if your baby is getting enough to eat?
It’s important that you not force your baby to eat more than what they want to eat. When your baby begins turning their nose away or closing their mouth up tight or they just seem to lose interest in eating, then they have had enough. There’s no reason to force them to eat more than what they are comfortable eating. It’s important to remember that these solid foods are in addition to the formula or breastmilk that your baby is already eating. They may not need to eat any more than a tablespoon or two of solid foods at a meal. You have to remember that for their tiny bodies that is a lot of food.
For the first year of life your baby receives all of the nutrition they need from breast-feeding. If you are breast-feeding and your baby appears to be happy, healthy, and is growing normally, don’t feel like you must be pressured to introduce solid foods, especially if your baby does not seem to be interested.
Some doctors and of course your well-meaning family members and friends will pressure you to begin solid foods “on schedule.” While it is a good idea to begin incorporating your baby at mealtimes to understand the schedule and what mealtimes look like for your family, you do not need to proceed with something that you and your baby are not ready for simply because society expects you to do so.
The bottom line is this:
- Is your baby interested in eating solid foods?
- Is your baby growing normally, gaining weight at a normal pace, and progressing physically as expected?
- Are you concerned about low iron or any other deficiencies?
- Trust your gut. You don’t have to take this process quickly or move at a pace that is uncomfortable for both you and your baby. Take it slow and introduce foods at a rate that is comfortable for both you and your growing baby.
How much solid foods should you feed your baby
You can begin adding solid foods in small portions. Start with a teaspoon and work your way up to a tablespoon or two depending on the age and size of your baby.
Even as much as a teaspoon to a tablespoon is a meal for your baby. Don’t worry that it seems like it’s not much. They will still get the benefits of the added iron and the vitamins and minerals from the new food.
What order should solid foods be introduced to your baby?
The first thing to introduce are grain cereals such as rice, barley, oat and multigrain. While it is commonly suggested to begin foods in a certain order, the CDC does not specify a particular order in which to introduce foods.
Typically to begin with, fortified cereals, followed by fruits and vegetables and simple meats. It is important not to introduce mixed foods in the beginning. For example, if your baby has already been introduced to banana and pears, you can offer a mixture of banana and pears because they have been exposed to both of those food items and have proven to tolerate them well. But if you are introducing a new food to your baby you want to make sure to isolate that food to introduce it.
How should baby foods be introduced?
New foods should be introduced individually. Present the new food to your baby in mashed form at first. Wait 3 to 5 days before introducing any other new foods to your baby. This way you can determine if your baby has any gastrointestinal responses to the food that are unpleasant or if they have some sort of allergic reaction it is easier for you to know what may have caused it.
Parents.com has a great breakdown Of solid foods to introduce by baby’s age and recommends the following:
- 4-6 months–single grain cereals like rice, oat, or barley
- 4-8 months–puréed vegetables, fruits and meats such as
- Green beans
- 6-8 months–finger foods (single ingredient) such as
- Bits of banana
- Small pieces of vegetables
- 9-12 months–mashed or chopped foods
- Chicken, beef, turkey
- Mashed banana or other fruits
- Yogurt or cottage cheese (be sure to vet any dairy for food allergies)
- Mashed sweet potatoes
Babies seem to have a preference for sweet foods and it does not seem to matter what order you offer them as to whether your baby will turn their nose up to mashed potatoes for a bite of something more sweet.
It is important to encourage your baby to eat a variety of foods as you introduce them and add more to their diet. If you offer candy or sweet items such as suckers, you can bet that your baby will prefer those items over eating a well-balanced meal. Keep candy and junk food to an absolute minimum or eliminated altogether to encourage your baby to eat healthy and enjoy a variety of food tastes.
What about food allergies?
Some foods are more commonly known for creating allergy responses in babies and should not be introduced within the first year. Some of these foods are:
- Cows milk
- Peanuts or peanut butter
How can you tell if a baby is allergic to a food?
A food allergy is a physiological reaction that occurs when a body responds negatively to the proteins found in certain foods. It usually happens when you have eaten that item and can cause a host of symptoms. It can be very frightening if your baby has an allergic reaction to a food. If you are spacing out food introduction it can be much easier to narrow down what food is causing the problem if you see symptoms.
Here are some of the symptoms of a food allergy:
- Gastro issues such as
- Skin issues such as
- Hives or rash
- Atopic dermatitis
- Breathing issues such as
- of the throat
Some foods can cause a sensitivity but not necessarily an allergy. If you see multiple of these symptoms after introducing a new food, or if your baby is having trouble breathing, you should seek medical attention for your baby immediately as these types of allergies could be life-threatening.
Be sure to discuss any food sensitivities that you notice with your baby’s doctor.
What other foods should be avoided?
There are other foods that you should avoid during the first year and these include honey which can introduce botulism, a serious illness, if it is offered to your baby too early in life.
You should also avoid cutting food too big. Babies can choke very easily. Some foods that are choking hazards for your baby are hard candy, grapes, hard vegetables such as uncooked carrots, peanut butter which can be difficult to swallow and babies can get choked, bits of hot dog, seeds or nuts, and some snack foods such as popcorn or potato chips which could get stuck in their throats.
A good rule of thumb is that if you can mash it between your fingers and it squishes easily, it should be fairly easy for your baby to smash with their tongue and swallow. As they develop teeth they are going to want things that they can chew on and it’s important to make sure that the foods you give them are easily chewed and swallowed. Hot dogs can be particularly dangerous for babies.
Introducing solid foods to your baby is fun and exciting and an important milestone for your baby. Try not to rush the process and take your time to be diligent about what you offer and win so that you can make sure your baby is handling these new foods well in their sensitive system. And get ready. Because feeding babies their first solids is rather exciting and hilarious. There will be foods they make horrific faces at and other foods that they simply can’t seem to get enough of! Enjoy this time and make sure your baby eats a variety of foods to keep them healthy.
For further reading:
Christina M. Ward,
Babienet blog contributor
Mother and grandmother
The Complete Guide to Starting Your Baby on Solid Foods Is an overview for parents and caregivers to introduce solid foods to a baby, the process, and some foods to avoid during the first year of a baby’s life.