10 Tips for Starting Your Baby on Solid Food

This post was originally published in September 2011 but is updated to reflect the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new policy statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, published online February 27, 2012. It is available in free full text online, and it includes a nice summary of the research supporting breastfeeding and the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

Starting solid foods is one of the major landmarks of a baby’s first year.  You play a very active role in your child’s experience with food, and your goal is to make that experience healthy, fun, and safe.

Here are 10 tips to get you off to a good start.

 1.     Introduce your baby to solid foods around 6 months of age. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months. Around 6 months, they recommend that you begin introducing complementary foods but continue breastfeeding through the end of the first year and longer if desired. For formula-fed babies, it is probably less-important to wait until 6 months to introduce solid foods, but there is also no reason to jump the gun. Solid food should never be introduced before 4 months of age, and your baby should display the following signs of readiness before trying his first bite:

  • Your baby should be able to sit up in a high chair and hold his head up on his own.
  • He should show signs of interest in food and open his mouth when it is offered.
  • He should be able to move food from his mouth into his throat. If you offer a spoonful of food to your baby and he seems to push it right back out of his mouth, give him a few more practice bites, but also consider waiting another week or two. He just might not be ready yet.

I can remember being really concerned about the decision of when to start BabyC on solid foods. In hindsight, I wish I had relaxed a bit more. She didn’t really start eating more than a few nibbles until around 6.5 months, and there was no rushing the process. Besides, life was easier before solid foods! Breastfeeding was simple and not nearly as messy as solids. That being said, it is important that your baby have opportunities to try solid foods around 6 months, because around this age, breastfed babies in particular need to start eating iron- and zinc-rich foods.

 2.     You can skip the white rice cereal.  Yes, it is fortified with iron, and that is a good thing, and yes, it is easy to digest.  On the other hand, white rice cereal is pure starch (refined rice flour) and not that tasty or nutritious, except for the added iron.  Try whole grain baby cereals like oatmeal, barley, or brown rice cereal, which are also fortified with iron.  Just start with single-grain cereals so that you know the culprit if your baby has an allergic reaction (see #4).  There is also no reason that cereal has to be your baby’s first food.  Whoa, you say, now you’re really blowing my mind.  I know, keep reading…

 3.     Focus on meats, legumes, veggies, and fortified cereals.  Meat is a great complement to breastfeeding in older infants, because it is a good source of iron and zinc, both of which are low in breast milk (Krebs and Hambidge, 2007).  However, there is a common misconception among parents that meat should not be used as an early food for infants.  In a 2008 survey of the dietary habits of infants and toddlers, only 8% of 6-9-month-old infants ate meat or poultry at least once per day (more ate those jarred baby food “dinners” which contain some meat but also a lot of crap) (Siega-Riz et al. 2011).  There is no reason to wait on meat – you can make it one of your baby’s first foods.  Eggs and fish are also a great choice. Legumes are packed with protein and fairly high in iron – try lentils, mashed chick peas, or beans.  Vegetables are nutritious and usually well received by your budding foodie.  Offer some fruits, but know that they don’t give you as much nutritional bang for your buck, being higher in sugar and water.  Including two daily servings of fortified cereal in your baby’s diet will help ensure that he is getting enough iron, but check out my recent post (5 Practical Ways to Increase Iron in Your Baby’s Diet) for other tips.  Dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are also fair game but should be fed in limited amounts.

4.  Wait 2-3 days between introducing new foods.  This gives you time to watch for symptoms of a food allergy, and if those symptoms should appear, you will know that they are likely due to the new food. Symptoms of food allergy include diarrhea, rash, and vomiting. Common food allergies include egg white, fish and shellfish, wheat, cow’s milk, soy, citrus, and berries. Pediatricians used to recommend delaying the introduction of egg whites, fish, and peanuts, but the AAP now gives these a green light at 6 months. In fact, delaying the introduction of these foods may increase the chance that your child will develop an allergy to them. However, if you have a history of food allergies in your family, talk with your pediatrician about the timing of introduction of high allergy foods. For all babies, avoid honey until the first birthday. Honey can be contaminated with botulism spores, and the risk of botulism is greatest in infants.

5.  Experiment with different textures.  Your baby may prefer a thinner or thicker puree.  Or he may prefer to skip the purees altogether.  We tried giving BabyC purees very little success, but then we discovered that she loved finger foods and moved straight to those.  Soft fruits, avocado, cooked vegetables, and pasta were a big hit.  There is a movement called Baby Led Weaning that advocates for skipping purees all together.  A recent study found that toddlers that were initially introduced to solids with a baby-led finger-food approach had a lower incidence of obesity (Townsend and Pitchford, 2012). It was a small study with a few limitations, but the results are interesting nonetheless.6. Let your baby set the pace of meals. Whether you start with purees or finger foods or a combination, your baby should decide how fast and how much food to eat. This comes naturally when your baby eats finger foods. If you are spoon-feeding, be sure to stay tuned in to your baby and enjoy the meal together. Wait for your baby’s cues that he wants more before pushing the spoon into his mouth. Let him lean forward and open his mouth to show you that he’s ready for the next bite. By being responsive to your baby in this way, you are teaching him to listen to his body and honor his own cues of hunger and fullness, a skill that will serve him well throughout life.

7.  Do you know what to do if your baby starts choking?  Make sure you do.  Learn the baby Heimlich maneuver.  The Heimlich is easy enough, but if you haven’t already, this is a good time to take an infant/child CPR class, which will include handling a choking emergency.  At this age, any number of things in your house and the world, including food, can be choking hazards, and you should be ready.  Obviously, avoid giving your baby foods that are small and firm such as raisins, popcorn, and nuts.

8.  Start slow.  Start with one solid meal per day, which may be just a tablespoon or two at first.  As your baby starts to show more interest in food, gradually increase the amount offered and the number of meals up to three solid meals per day around nine months of age.  Think of this time as a gradual transition towards more solid foods, but let your baby set the pace.  At first, your baby will not be eating enough solids to affect breast or bottle feeding, but you will gradually decrease the number of milk feedings as your baby gets more and more calories from solids.

9.  Know that every baby is different.  Some babies will eat like a pro on day one.  Ours did not.  If your baby is slow to start solids, don’t worry and don’t rush him.  Just trust that he’ll get it eventually.  Meal timing may be important to your success.  If your baby is too hungry or too full, he may not be interested in solids.  Many parents find that nursing on one side, then trying some solid food, then returning to nurse on the other side, works well.

10.  Set your baby up for a lifetime of healthy eating by modeling healthy eating habits.  Your baby will reach an age when he wants to eat what is on your plate, so if there are french fries on your plate, that’s what your baby will want.  Babies are remarkably adept at recognizing hypocrisy when they see it.   Make an effort to sit down to eat as a family, with your baby included.  Make mealtime a social, pleasant time.  It should never be rushed or forced.  For more ideas, check out my recent post – Enjoying and Exploring Food with Baby.

I hope these tips help as you embark on your baby food adventure!  But like I said, every baby is different.  If you are just beginning this process, what other questions do you have?  Experienced mamas and papas – what did I leave out?

REFERENCES

American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, Policy Statement. Published online February 27, 2012. www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2011-3552

Krebs, N.F. and K.M. Hambidge. Complementary feeding: clinically relevant factors affecting timing and composition. Am J Clin Nutr. 85(2): p. 639S-645S. 2007.

Siega-Riz, A.M., D.M. Deming, K.C. Reidy, M.K. Fox, E. Condon, and R.R. Briefel. Food consumption patterns of infants and toddlers: where are we now? J Am Diet Assoc. 110(12 Suppl): p. S38-51. 2010.

Townsend E. and N.J. Pitchford. Baby knows best? The impact of weaning style on food preferences and body mass index in early childhood in a case-controlled sample. BMJ Open Feb 6;2(1):e000298. 2012.

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30 thoughts on “10 Tips for Starting Your Baby on Solid Food

  1. Do you know why it’s less important for formula-fed babies to start before the 6 months? (I find that intriguing, so I’m curious if you know why/) I started my first with (@ 6month) with the white rice, and she hated it (and it made introducing the next food hard!) I think this time around, I’m going to skip the rice cereal, and move straight into a veggie (perhaps avocado?)

    Also, number 10: totally and completely true. Daisy keeps me so accountable for eating healthy. ;-)

    • It’s a great question. As far as i can tell, the AAP still says 4-6 months for the introduction of solids in formula-fed babies and recommends looking for the signs of readiness that I listed. In breastfed babies, there are studies showing that waiting until 6 months confers additional advantages in terms of lower incidence on ear infections, GI infections, respiratory illness, etc. I don’t think there is the same evidence for formula-fed babies, probably because it is the additional breast milk itself that is protective, as well as the fact that exclusively breastfed babies are less likely to be exposed to food borne illnesses. Babies on formula have already been exposed to some novel proteins and potentially, pathogens from water or bottles, so the introduction of solid foods is less likely to pose an additional challenge to them. Plus, the AAP also lists as advantages of EBF for 6 months the greater spacing of children (b/c of lactational amenorrhea, and greater spacing is better for moms) as well as maternal weight loss!

      • Thanks for this article :-)
        I’d like to add my twopence worth to this conversation…
        What I was taught as a Child Health Nurse is that it is just as important, if not more important, to wait till six months with formula fed infants, the reason being that formula fed infants tend to have slightly higher insulin levels than breast fed infants and early introduction of solids can push those insulin levels even higher, thereby increasing their risk of type II diabetes and heart disease later in life. Insulin also tells the body to make fat cells so babies with high insulin levels are more likely to end up with weight problems.
        On the other hand, one reason for starting earlier would be that formula fed babies are sometimes fussier about trying new tastes as they haven’t been exposed to all the different flavours which come through breast milk when a mother eats strong tasting foods.
        My feeling is that we need to be watching for those signs of readiness you described rather than getting fixated on a set age.
        And here in Australia (may be different there) the Heimlich Maneuver is not recommended on infants less than 12 months old, we’re taught to tip the infant forward over your forearm and deliver firm back blows to dislodge the choking hazard.

        • Ha, I should have read on before commenting…… just saw your comment below about increased evidence of diabetes etc when starting solids late. Could you let me have the reference so I can read up on this?

  2. Interestingly, only about 20% of infant botulism cases can be linked to honey:
    “However, since most infants with infant botulism have had no exposure to honey, the risk
    factors and vehicles of transmission of C. botulinum for the majority of cases remain unclear”

    (But babies should DEFINITELY not have honey before 12 months! I’m not disputing that recommendation at all.)

    We did oatmeal as the first grain. Bug was a fan.

  3. hi! Something I haven’t been able to pick up in my reading but since people seem to hover between the 4-6 month age mark for introducing solids, I have been wondering, since the first steps are ‘introducing’ and often only fingertipfuls, and the baby can either push out or reject the small amounts of food you offer, I don’t quite understand what the harm is in offering food (the right/recommended types) at 4 months vs 6 months since the baby won’t take it if they’re not ready and you don’t attempt to force them? Is it that they are more likely to continue rejecting food or something? Or do people worry that parents will force the food upon the baby too early?

    • There is evidence that introducing solids BEFORE 4 months increases the risk of eczema (and maybe allergies), type 1 diabetes, and obesity. Interestingly, the diabetes and obesity risks are also increased when solids are started AFTER 6-7 months, so there seems to be an ideal window between 4 and 6 months. However, for most babies, there is no reason to rush it – no benefit to starting earlier than 6 months. And in exclusively breastfed babies, there appears to be a solid benefit to really keeping things exclusive until 6 months in terms of infection risk. The other part of the answer is what you touched on – that the AAP wants to set a really clear policy. A taste here and there might not be a big deal, but parents might try to push too much too early, including adding cereal to baby’s bottle, and you really don’t want to go down that road. I also think the signs of readiness are really helpful. They acknowledge that babies develop at different rates, and some babies might be ready (and really excited to) start solids earlier than others. For a formula or mixed breast/formula-fed baby, I would follow those guidelines. For an exclusively breastfed baby, I would wait until about 6 months.

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  5. Any ideas on when to expect the pincer grasp to develop? Just curious…my little guy (6 1/2 months) wants to get that avocado in his mouth, but he’s not quite coordinated yet!

    …by the way, his first was avocado. He hated it! I have some great pictures of his disgusted face :) Now, a few weeks later, it’s one of his favorites! It’s density of calories makes it a great choice.

    • Sorry, Kate, your comment slipped by me. Thanks Esther for responding! I will add that BabyC started being successful with the pincer grasp around 7 months of age. I distinctly remember it, because BabyC was not that interested in spoon-feeding at that time. One of our friends had some of those baby puffs, and BabyC tried some. She was really into eating those things, and it seemed like her % success for fingers to mouth went from 5% to 95% within a week. Those are just the right size and probably easier to pick up than avocado, though! We also went to the beach around 7 months, and BabyC was really good at stuffing sand in her mouth, too:) Like most things, I’m sure there is a wide range in development of the pincer grasp, though. Baby411 (my go-to for quick reference) says 7-10.5 months for “crude” pincer grasp and 9-14 months for “fine” pincer grasp.

  6. I’ve started my baby on solids recently and there were a couple of points that I wasn’t aware of. Thanks for the info!

  7. my lil sweetie just turned 4 mo. My first two were perfectly happy waiting for solids and showed little interest even after 6 mo. This one is all over me! She tries to grab food off my fork and sweep in to her mouth faster than i can get it to my mouth. Ive been fighting her off for weeks in the interest of waiting, but short of only eating when she sleeps this doesnt seem possible. I dont want to encourage the eating by actually puting the spooned food into her mouth but would it be appropriate to put tiny soft foods on her high chair tray and let her make her own effort?

    • Hi Michelle – does your baby show the signs of readiness I listed above? If so, it sounds like she’s ready. The 6-month-mark is a good guideline, but it won’t work for all babies, and there’s no reason to argue with a baby who is clamoring for it! Of course, she may just really want to get her hands on what you’re eating and might not be that interested in actually eating it. I recommend checking with your pediatrician first, but then I think you have the right idea of letting her explore some small, soft finger foods and let her take the lead. Have fun – sounds like you have quite the foodie on your hands!

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  10. i love all the advice but my daugther just doesnt open her mouth. I knowshe is able to eat solids but its a mission for her to eat because ive stuffed the spoon when she laughs….its like im torturing her she is going on 8 months plz any advice

    • Here’s what I recommend: put some soft foods in front of her a few times a day, and let her decide if she wants to eat. You can even set a spoon of purée in front of her if you want. Or go ahead and offer to help her with the spoon, but if she closes her mouth, acknowledge what she’s trying to tell you: “You’re saying no, you don’t want a bite of that now.” The most important thing is to give her the opportunity to eat but let her decide if and how much. Let her be in control – she’ll let you know if she wants your help. She’ll get the nutrients she needs. You want mealtimes to be pleasant, not a chore for both of you. At this age, my daughter didnt want to eat from a spoon, but she loved finger foods. I bet it will get better if you give her this control and let her discover that eating is fun and delicious. If it doesn’t, ask your pediatrician for some help!

        • The adjusted age is usually a better guideline, because so much of the skills required to eat solid foods are developmental – it will take a preemie a little longer to get there. But the best guide is really just to use the signs of readiness described in your post. If your baby is meeting those signs, then she’s probably ready to start dabbling in solids.

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  13. We’ve recently started our not-quite-six-month-old on solids, since our doctor said it was okay. So far we’ve tried bananas, apple, carrot, and avocado, but avocado’s been the only one she’s really liked so far. She got a lot more excited about it when I steamed carrots and then gave her small chunks of them as finger foods, but she still seems disgruntled that she doesn’t get what we’re eating for dinner instead. This post is really helpful, because it gives me some ideas of what to try next.

  14. I have a 6 month old on March 1…she was at 5 1/2 months when we started her on oatmeal mixed with formula about a week ago. Today I tried pureed banana and she ate it, but wasn’t near excited about it as the oatmeal….mid meal I went and mixed up some oatmeal and put a little banana in it. Previously to this she has been obsessed with the oatmeal opening her mouth and such…I couldn’t get to the bowl and back to her mouth fast enough. Do I take this as she wasn’t a fan of the banana, or maybe thrown off by it as a change? I have seen the option to put finger soft foods in front of her…do you think I can try this already….if she is doing good swallowing pureed do you think she would be able to be ok with a little piece of banana…and I mean tiny?

    • It’s just a new taste to her! Don’t take this as a rejection. Just keep offering bites of banana and other foods without pressuring her to eat. It’s also a good idea to start by mixing it with something familiar like you’re doing. It may take many tastes, but she’ll eventually love lots of foods. Have fun tasting and exploring with her! Oh, and you can offer her finger foods, just expect most of it to end up on her or the floor, know the heimlich, and never leave her unattended.

  15. Ok, I am new to this whole BLW and being a mom! I want to do BLW because my LO is allergic to the cereals (and anything with rice flour in it). My LO is 6 months this week. We started with mango and apple purees, but I hate giving him that pureed garbage from the store. I have a couple questions though that I can’t find answers to! My LO doesn’t have any teeth yet. If you are giving the baby egg yolks, do you give them cooked soft? How do they “chew them”? Also, if you are giving apple slices, do you buy harder apples to prevent choking or soft so they can gum it more? What kinds of cheese should I start with? If you give veggies, like carrot sticks, do you cook them first? Thank you so much! I am so looking forward to getting my little one eating real food!

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