The recommendation for your baby is to start solid foods between 4 and 6 months of age, which is not an arbitrary number. For the first six months of life, breast milk or formula can meet all of your child’s nutritional needs.1. Even if you start solid foods early on, these new foods are not a substitute for breast milk or formula.
Your child’s first exposure to food is supplemental and experimental for them, part of the learning process, not a way to meet their daily caloric and nutritional needs.
Signs of solid fuel readiness
From birth, infants are accustomed to receiving food from breast milk or bottles primarily through sucking. If something else makes it into the infant’s mouth, the infant has a tongue-propulsion reflex, a reflex that works to prevent choking and asphyxiation.
By 4 months of age, the tongue thrust reflex begins to disappear. This is an indication that your child may be ready to try solid foods.
However, this is not the only indicator. Your baby’s delicate digestive system lacks the enzymes necessary to digest anything other than breast milk or formula. At about 4 months of age, babies begin to produce the enzymes needed to digest other foods, such as baby cereal.
Your baby needs you to support their head while they are upright. As they begin to control their head, this means their neck muscles are strong enough to keep their throat extended and help prevent choking.
Previously, babies’ responsiveness helped them to eat. Rooting, sucking, and crying let you know it’s time to let them eat. In the beginning, your baby doesn’t know what’s happening at feeding time.
As they grow, your baby may begin to show interest in seeing the bottle or breast (and may even reach for it) because they recognize these as signs that they are about to eat.
By 4 to 6 months of age, your baby will usually begin to show interest in what you’re eating. They may even try to grab your spoon or take something off your plate.
When they are newborns, you know it’s time to stop feeding them when they stop sucking or fall asleep. You’ll also get a clear signal when your bottle or breast is empty.
As your baby gets older, they will start to move their head away from the bottle or breast and refuse to drink anymore once they’ve had enough.
What if your baby isn’t ready?
Here are some preparation tips that your baby needs to have before they will be ready for solids. If your baby hasn’t reached these milestones, then continue to give them breast milk or formula.
Digestion: If your baby’s digestive system is not ready for solid foods, then eating solid foods may cause stomach problems.
Head support. Babies who cannot support their heads can choke easily.
Reflexes. An infant will not swallow anything thicker than liquid if they are still trying to squeeze food out of their mouth with their tongue.
Turning the head. If your baby can’t turn away from food, they will learn to keep eating, even when they are full. This can lead to future obesity.
Continue to feed your baby breast milk or formula until you notice that they are ready for solids. Pay attention to the tips mentioned above and trust that your baby will be ready for these new foods in their own time.
Best preferred foods
Most experts recommend rice as an infant’s first solid food.2. First, rice cereal is light in flavor, so infants are not offended by the strong taste when they first try solid foods.
Rice cereal can be thinned and thickened as needed, does not cause allergies, and is easy for your baby to digest.
Parents are sometimes concerned that rice is often heavily sprayed with pesticides. Whether you make your own rice or buy commercial brands, you may want to consider buying organic baby food rice if you are concerned about pesticides.3
Fruits and vegetables
That said, don’t feel like you have to start with rice cereal if you don’t want to. Pears, applesauce, peaches, bananas, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and avocados are all good starting foods.
Sometimes babies who start on cereal can get a little constipated. Adding some peaches and avocados can reduce or prevent constipation.
Potatoes are another great starter food because they are usually already a part of your family meal. You don’t need to do any additional or special preparation other than mashing the potatoes and mixing them with some liquid such as formula or breast milk.
Another piece of advice you may have heard is to start eating fruit. You may have heard that if you start your baby on fruit, they will become fond of sweets and refuse to eat anything else. However, this is not strictly true
If your baby refuses to eat filtered green beans and other vegetables, it doesn’t mean they’ve been “spoiled” by the natural sweetness of fruit. Instead, they just haven’t developed a taste for the strong flavors of vegetables. Infants who reject more palatable foods usually just need time to adjust.
Homemade or commercial foods
You can make your own baby food or buy commercial versions. Some of the benefits of homemade baby food are that it’s easy to control what goes into it and there’s usually less waste. You can make a lot of it and then freeze it into smaller batches.
However, there are benefits to the commercial versions as well. They are great to have on hand when you are running low on time or throwing them into your diaper bag.
Store bought food
If you are using commercial baby food, be sure to check the ingredients. In the baby food section, the first starting solid food will usually be called this or have a number 1 on the jar.
“Beginner foods” usually contain only one ingredient, such as carrots and water. Commercial infant cereals are also usually labeled as single-ingredient. Foods for older infants usually contain multiple ingredients (e.g., apples, plums, and pears).
If you take a jar of food from the wrong age group, you may inadvertently expose your baby to ingredients that have not yet been added to their diet. This isn’t necessarily dangerous, but it can make identifying food allergies more difficult.
When you make baby food, keep it thin. It should be slightly thicker than breast milk or formulaーーthink heavy cream or buttermilk. It can wrap around the back of the spoon, but it will still drip and not stick to the spoon. Consistency should be uniform with no lumps. Prepare about 2 teaspoons.
There are some excellent baby food books that will show you how to prepare your baby’s first food. These books will also provide you with new food ideas to try as your baby grows.
There is no need to heat baby food, although some babies like it that way. A good guideline is that if you eat a specific food heated (such as oatmeal or potatoes), warm it for your baby. If you eat the food cold, such as pears or avocados, freeze it for your baby.
If you microwave food, heat it on 50 to 60 percent power and be sure to stir it before heating to remove any hot spots. Before feeding your baby, be sure to test the temperature of the food you’re heating so you don’t burn your baby’s mouth.
How to feed your baby
The first few times you try to feed your baby solids, make sure they have a bib and not something elseーーit might make a mess, and you’ll save some laundry to do.
Have your baby sit on your lap and start feeding him slowly. Some parenting experts recommend that you feed your baby in an infant seat. This option is fine, as long as the seat can be adjusted to be in a mostly vertical position. Some chairs tilt too much to be used safely when feeding.
If your baby is not sitting well enough to sit in a high chair or on your lap, wait a few more weeks until you reach these milestones before starting solids.
Use a small spoonーpreferably a soft covered spoon, not a metal one (your baby may get gum bites from a metal spoon). If your baby doesn’t seem to like spoons, try Dr. William Sears’ advice: use only your fingers. Make sure your hands are clean, then dip your fingers into the food you’ve prepared. Then, let your baby suck on it or stick it off.
Remember, your baby will most likely not swallow much at first.
Offer small amounts, take your time, and be prepared for messes and some almost joyful expressions.
Remember that taste is a sense. Compared to other senses, infants’ sense of taste is underdeveloped. It’s similar to seeing a bright light or hearing a loud noise for the first time. Even if your baby likes the food you offer, their initial experience with new flavors may be a bit of a shock.4
Your baby’s saliva contains enzymes that break down food.5 If you take your baby’s food straight out of the jar and put the jar back in the fridge, you’ll find it’s a mess the next day.
To avoid this, use a cup or bowl to dispense the amount you think your child will eat. At first, this is just a teaspoon or so. If your baby wants more, use a new spoon to add a teaspoon at a time.
When you’re done eating, don’t put the contents of the bowl back in the jar. If there is any left, throw it away.
Some foods are more likely to cause allergies than others, such as milk and eggs. In that case, you can watch out for allergic reactions or sensitivities.
For example, if you gave your baby rice cereal when he was 6 months old and found that he was a good eater, you can give him applesauce a few days later. While you are eating applesauce, there is no need to stop feeding rice cereal because you already know your baby is handling the cereal well.
Whether or not there is a family history of allergies, watch for signs of an allergic reaction after adding a new food to your child’s diet.
If your baby has severe symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of the mouth or throat, vomiting and diarrhea, or loss of consciousness, call 911.
Many foods pose a choking hazard to infants and children.7 Most of these foods do not cause concern until children are older and begin eating coarse foods. Nevertheless, parents should be aware of foods that pose a choking hazard and know what to do in case of an emergency.
High Chair Safety
When your child is sitting in a high chair, check that they can support themselves, including that they can support their own head. Use the straps on the chair often and make sure the chair tray is not too tight on your baby’s chest. Watch your child sit in the chair the entire time.8
Clean the high chair after each feeding. Some chairs have removable trays that are small enough to fit in the dishwasher. Thoroughly cleaning the dishwasher is the best way to clean up all the cracks and crevices where pureed food likes to hide and spoil.
Don’t rush or overfeed
Take time to introduce new foods. Pay attention to your child’s cues and interests. Plan these new feeding experiences a few hours before or after a feeding. Let your child enjoy the time they wantーーwhether it’s a little or a lot.
If your child doesn’t seem interested, don’t worry. Try again later in the day or at another time.
If your child turns away or refuses to talk, stop feeding and move on to another activity.
Don’t feel that your child has to eat any set amount of food. Let them learn to respect what their bodies are telling them about their satiety and nutritional needs. Babies have small tummies!
A quote from Verywell
Remember that the first few months of your child’s exposure to solid foods is primarily a learning experience. Don’t neglect any feedings or reduce the amount of formula or breast milk your infant receives. They still need all the nutrition they get from breast milk or a bottle.