Introducing solid foods to your baby
Breast milk or formula is the only food babies need for the first 6 months of life, at which point solid foods can be gradually introduced. Ideally, your baby will be fed only breast milk until 6 months of age. Before you start offering solid foods, talk to your doctor. He or she will want to be certain that your baby is physically and developmentally ready.
Your baby may be ready to start eating solid foods if he or she:
- Is at least 4 months of age.
- Demonstrates a curiosity about solid foods and your family's eating behavior.
- Has started to transition from using the sucking reflex to swallowing and does not push a spoon or other object out with the tongue when it is placed in the mouth.
- Can sit with support.
- Has good head and neck control.
When you and your doctor have determined your baby is ready to start eating solid foods, keep these general guidelines in mind.
- Iron-fortified, single-grain infant cereal should be offered first. Do not add cereal to bottles, but rather spoon-feed your baby a mixture of cereal with breast milk or formula, gradually thickening the consistency. Generally, rice cereal is introduced first, followed by barley and oatmeal cereals. Pureed or mashed fruits, vegetables, and meats can follow. Be sure to include foods rich in vitamin C, which helps your baby absorb iron.
- Feed your baby a small amount—about 1 tsp (5 mL) to 2 tsp (10 mL)—of a new type of food for a few days along with foods he or she has already been eating. Observe your baby before introducing another new food. This is especially important if any family members have food allergies or other allergies.1 This strategy helps you quickly identify a food that may be causing a reaction, such as a rash. Eggs, milk, wheat, soy, and peanuts cause most of the allergic reactions in children.
- Make sure foods are strained or mashed and that there are no pieces that could cause your baby to choke.
- Begin offering finger foods when your baby has started eating solid foods well. Examples include dry cereal, crunchy toast, well-cooked pasta, small pieces of chicken, scrambled eggs, and small chunks of banana.
- Do not feed your baby directly from the food jar. Instead, put some of the food onto a small dish. That way, germs from your baby's mouth won't get into the jar and spoil the food.
- When you first start, don't choose foods with mixed textures, such as broth with vegetables. These kinds of meals are the hardest for a baby to eat.
It's best to keep these specific guidelines in mind, too:
- Don't add spices, salt, or sugar to your baby's food.2
- Don't give your baby foods made from fresh spinach, beets, turnips, carrots, or collard greens. In some parts of the country, these foods contain too much nitrate and can make your baby ill.3
- Don't give your baby cow's milk or honey until 1 year of age.
As you introduce new foods, it is important to pay attention to your baby's cues. When your baby's head turns away from a spoonful of food, don't force it. But try again later. Let your baby tell you when he or she is full. Also, it may help to introduce new foods when your baby is well rested and there are no distractions, such as a TV.
As your baby learns to feed himself or herself, keep in mind that your job is to provide a variety of nutritious foods, but your baby will decide how much to eat. It may take more than 10 times before your child accepts a new food.4
Your baby will quickly gain new eating skills, such as chewing, swallowing, and using cups and utensils, between 6 and 12 months of age. Offer your baby a variety of nutritious foods and gradually allow him or her to explore different tastes and textures. Try to be patient as your baby experiments and learns, and be tolerant of messes. Your baby will likely enjoy playing with a spoon, but most of the food will fall off it. It's natural for your baby to "make a mess" while learning about food. Until your baby can handle a spoon better, you can give your baby a clean spoon to hold while you feed him or her with a different spoon.
To help reduce your clean-up, use a child's high chair that has a detachable tray and raised rims. The rims on the tray help keep dishes and food from sliding off. And you can carry the tray to the sink for cleaning. Cover the seat with a removable, washable pad. Also, think about covering the floor around the high chair. Remember—your child is learning by experimenting.
- Heird WC (2007). The feeding of infants and children. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed., pp. 214–225. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
- Kimmel SR, Ratliff-Schaub K (2007). Growth and development. In RE Rakel, ed., Textbook of Family Medicine, 7th ed., pp. 555–584. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2004). Age four months through seven months. In SP Shelov, RE Hannemann, eds., Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 4th ed., chap. 8, pp. 201–230. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Last Updated: April 3, 2008