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10 Tips for Starting Your Baby on Solid Food

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 between 4 and 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, but other professional and public health organizations recommend starting solids anytime between 4 and 6 months. You can read more about age of solids introduction and health outcomes (including lost of references to the research) in this post: Starting Solids: 4 Months, 6 Months, or Somewhere In Between?

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’ve written more about recognizing your baby’s signs of readiness to start solids in this post: 4 Signs Your Baby Is Ready for Solid Foods

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… Read lots more about infant cereals here: The Whole Truth About Infant Cereals: 7 Science-Based Tips.

 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?

read more about feeding


American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, Policy Statement. Published online February 27, 2012.

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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The Importance of Self-Soothing to Infant Sleep (and how to support it!)

This is the third post in my series on sleep. I have written about my family’s experience with sleep training and why sleep deprivation is a problem for both babies and their mothers. I admit that I’m feeling a little buried in sleep research. Part of me wants to be done with it, and part of me wants to do a second postdoc in infant sleep! I set out to write this post on sleep training methods and their benefits (risks to come), but I got side-tracked on the topic of self-soothing. Since self-soothing is the goal of sleep training, I figured it was worth taking some time to explore. So that’s this post, and my next post will delve into the research on specific sleep training methods.

When I was five months pregnant with BabyC, I babysat for Little J, a friend’s one-year-old. His mom left me written directions for Little J’s bedtime routine: a cup of milk, brush teeth, diaper change and pajamas, a few books, then lay him in his crib. Hand him his Pup-Pup, wind up a little music box, say goodnight, turn off the light, and shut the door. I was used to rocking babies or rubbing their backs until they were in a deep sleep, and then stealthily tiptoeing from the room. I was nervous about Little J’s bedtime routine, particularly since it was his first time with a baby-sitter besides his grandmother.

From start to finish, Little J’s bedtime routine took all of 10 minutes. He smiled at me when I handed him his Pup-Pup, and I said goodnight. From the living room, I watched him on the video baby monitor as he chatted with Pup-Pup for a few minutes. He rolled around the crib as if looking for a comfortable sleeping position and then fell asleep. I was in awe of this kid. Little J seemed so confident and at ease in his bed. He welcomed sleep, and he knew how to get there without my help.

When Little J’s mom got home that night, I told her that I had never seen a baby transition to sleep so independently and so easily. “You are so lucky!” I said.

She smiled. “No, not lucky. That took some work, but it sure was worth it.”

Little J was my first introduction to self-soothing. Although I knew little about it, I hoped that the baby kicking away in my belly might one day be able to sleep like that. Read more

On getting away… but realizing that we can’t escape

Sometimes, we plan ourselves a little mini-vacation. We go somewhere where the sun almost always shines in order to break up our rainy winter here in Western Oregon.

Pulling off a trip out-of-town, even the most mini of mini-vacations, requires lots of work and mega-list-making. We do laundry, meal plan, food shop, and pack. We spend about as much time working to make the trip happen as we’ll actually spend away, but we know it will be worth it. We’ll soak up some UV, strap on snowshoes and get away from the world, enjoy good adult conversations with friends, and escape our career and stay-at-home-mom worlds.

And we pull it off. After two hours of songs, hand games, iPad apps, snacks, and just a little whining, we make it to a cabin where we’ll spend a long weekend with dear friends and their little boy, just a few weeks older than BabyC. We start to plan a weekend of fun activities together.

Only problem is, we are already exhausted. BabyC has been working on a couple of new teeth, so she’s not in the best of spirits. She and I have both been up every night for the past week. I have a cold and am feeling worn down. Husband has been working hard and just wants to sleep.

Still, Saturday morning welcomes us with a few inches of fresh snow, blue sky, and warm sun. We are determined to get out and enjoy it, so we plan a snowshoeing trip after our kiddos have had their naps.

We head back West, into the mountains. As we turn onto the main road, I lament that I forgot to bring sunscreen. A few minutes later, the sun is gone, and Husband remarks that the outdoor temperature has dropped 10 degrees in as many miles. We climb up a mountain pass as the snow flurries start. By the time we have arrived at the trailhead, the snow is dumping. We start to bundle up our kids and ourselves, but after a couple of minutes of standing in that weather, we admit that our babies are not going to be happy about hiking in these conditions. We tell ourselves that if it wasn’t for them, we would definitely want to go for it, but being responsible parents, we re-pack the cars, put the kids back in their car seats, and head back down the mountain.

It turns out that responsible parents would have turned around at the first little flurry on that mountain, because getting back down was pretty treacherous. We had to stop to put chains on our tires. Husband, white-knuckled, drove carefully and slowly, while I pulled out all the stops to keep BabyC content in her car seat in the backseat.

The score on Saturday night: Mountain, 1. Escape plans, 0. Read more

My child is a scientist. {I bet yours is, too!}

I was tired yesterday afternoon. BabyC was whining. My mental to-do list seemed just as long as it was at the start of the day, but I could tell BabyC wasn’t interested in helping me cross anything from it. I glanced at the clock. 4:00 PM. Is it bedtime yet? I wished I could snuggle BabyC in my bed and take a nap with her, but that’s not what she had in mind.

The sun was shining, so I figured we should get out and enjoy it. That would at least ensure that BabyC would be happy to see her bed by 7:00 PM.

“BabyC, do you want to go for a walk with me?” I asked. She nodded an enthusiastic yes.

“OK, let’s get our socks and shoes on so we can go outside!” She shook her head “no” and said, “na-na-na.” It took some negotiations, but 10 minutes later, we were finally headed out. Note to self (once again): never bring only one pair of socks and shoes to the toddler negotiation table.

Since we’re talking toddlers here, you know that “going for a walk” is a loose term. My toddler doesn’t walk with any destination in mind. She takes it one step at a time, and every step or so, there is something that must be investigated.

My toddler is a scientist, after all. She observes. She asks questions (furrowed brow). She forms hypotheses. She experiments. This is serious work. Like most scientists, she knows that the joy is in the process. If she had only the destination in mind, she would surely miss something along the way. The scientific process is what she does all day, every day. It is how she learns. Read more

Why Sleep Matters to Babies and Parents

This is my second post in a series on sleep. My first post explained why the controversy around CIO concerns me and told the story of how sleep training helped our family. The purpose of this series is to take an honest look at the research on the risks and benefits of sleep training in babies.

In this post, I review the research on sleep deprivation in babies and their parents, because I think this topic often gets lost in the debates about how our babies should sleep. This post is not about sleep training and contains no shocking confessions, but this topic needs to be a part of the conversation.

Sleep deprivation is a part of parenthood. It doesn’t matter what sleep “secrets” you may have discovered. It doesn’t matter if your baby was sleeping through the night at 8 weeks. Regardless of our children’s sleep habits or our parenting philosophies, we parents know sleep deprivation all too well.

We now have a great sleep routine with BabyC, and she usually sleeps through for 12 hours at night. Still, we go through tough patches when she wakes during the night for one reason or another – because she is teething or sick or going through a growth spurt. I do my best to parent during the night just as I do during the day: being responsive and sensitive to her needs. And that means that some days, the morning comes way too soon and starts in a bleary-eyed fog with a headache that screams for coffee – two cups, ASAP!

All of this is completely normal.

Yes, sleep deprivation is a normal part of parenting. But when babies and parents suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, we need to be seriously concerned. Babies need sleep to support healthy development. Parents need sleep to maintain sanity. Sleep is a universal human need.

Why do babies need sleep? Read more

The Cry-It-Out Controversy and My Family’s Sleep Story

I’m coming out. My name is Alice, and I sleep-trained my daughter. I let her cry while she learned to go to sleep on her own. Yes, I let her cry-it-out.

I have since learned that letting babies cry is very controversial. Spend a little time on parenting forums or blogs, and you will find that some feel cry-it-out (CIO) is akin to child abuse. Recently, there have been several online articles that claim there is scientific evidence that CIO can cause lasting damage to a child’s brain. The Psychology Today article by Darcia Narvaez (Dangers of “Crying It Out”) was widely shared and retold to huge audiences on Babble, Huffington Post, and Yahoo Shine.

I read these articles with concern. Many, many families use some form of CIO and find that it helps everyone in the family sleep better. As the theories about CIO and brain damage bounced around parenting communities, I wondered how many families were second-guessing the choices they had made. Were their kids really at risk for brain damage and long-term relationship problems?

Closer to my heart, had my decisions put BabyC at risk? My love for my daughter is beyond words. The focus of my every day is on doing the best thing for her, and to me that means being sensitive, respectful, responsive, and patient. Some days, I am overwhelmed by the weight of that responsibility, but that is motherhood, isn’t it? When someone tells me that I may have harmed my child, I take it very seriously.

Sleep is intensely personal, and writing about this topic is hard for me, but I feel that CIO is something that I have to write about. When a parenting practice becomes controversial and “hot-button,” as CIO has, we often shy away from talking about it. None of us like to feel judged, and I personally have no interest in judging others. While the loudest voices continue to shout rhetoric, many parents internalize the self-doubt and then feel paralyzed with fear that they are making the wrong choices for their kids. I want to write about this topic with open-hearted honesty and respect for all the different ways families find to get sleep.

This is the first in a series of at least three posts on sleep and stress in babies. Read more

I’ll never put pumpkin in pumpkin bread again

How do you make pumpkin bread without pumpkin? Try using roasted winter squash instead. (Yes, I am aware that pumpkin is a squash, but you know what I mean.) Sure, you can call it squash bread, but that might confuse people. Just call it the best pumpkin bread ever.

I made a double recipe of this bread twice last week. Yes, four loaves of “pumpkin” bread were consumed by my family and friends in just a few short days.The first time around, I gave a loaf away to friends and kept one for us to eat. About 24 hours later, I realized that BabyC and I had together eaten all but one slice of our loaf. Husband, who had been coming and going from work a lot, hadn’t even had a chance to try it! I felt obligated to make another couple of loaves so he could at least have a fair shot at it.

Kabocha squash (photo credit:

I tried this recipe with two types of large winter squash: an ambercup and a kabocha (see here for an illustrated guide to winter squashes). The ambercup squash had been sitting in our garage since November, when it came with one of our last CSA shares. It looks similar to a pumpkin but is brighter orange and has a slightly rough skin. It had kept beautifully in those cool temperatures, and the bread was perfect. The kabocha, purchased from my local grocery store, was equally good.

Until recently, these huge winter squashes intimidated me. It seemed like a lot of work to cut, peel, and cook. Butternut squash has always been my go-to winter squash. Thanks to the CSA, I was pushed outside of my comfort zone and forced to finally do something with that monstrous ambercup squash that waited patiently in my garage. Read more