7 signs your baby is ready for solid foods
When should I introduce solid food to my baby?
As long as your baby shows signs of readiness, your child's doctor may say you can start solids any time around 4 to 6 months. Until then, breast milk or formula provides all the calories and nourishment your baby needs – and can handle. Infants don't yet have the physical skills to swallow solid foods safely, and their digestive system simply isn't ready for solids until they're about 4 months old.
(Note that there's some controversy on this topic. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) section on breastfeeding recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, the AAP's nutrition section and guidelines for pediatricians recommend starting solids at 4 to 6 months.)
How can I tell when my baby's ready for solid food?
Your baby will give you clear signs when he's ready to move beyond a liquid diet. Cues to look for include:
- Head control. Your baby needs to be able to keep his head in a steady, upright position.
- Sitting well when supported. Your baby needs to be able to sit upright in an infant feeding seat or highchair to swallow well.
- Losing the "extrusion reflex." Your baby's mouth and tongue develop in sync with his digestive system. To start solids, he should be able to move food to the back of his mouth and swallow it, instead of using his tongue to push food out of his mouth.
- Significant weight gain. He may be ready to eat solids if he's doubled his birth weight, weighs at least 13 pounds, and is at least 4 months old.
- Curiosity about food. Your baby may begin eyeing or reaching for your food or may open his mouth if you offer him a spoonful.
Which solid foods should I feed my baby first?
Each baby is different, so talk to your child's doctor about which solids to introduce and when. Most infants can start with any pureed single-ingredient food with no added salt or sugar. Although it's customary in many American families to start babies on infant cereal, there's no medical evidence showing that this offers any advantages or health benefits.
If your baby is breastfed, the AAP suggests meat as a first food because the iron in beef, chicken, and turkey helps to replace her iron stores, which start to diminish at about 6 months of age. Other good first foods include pureed sweet potatoes, squash, applesauce, bananas, peaches, and pears.
What can I do to minimize the risk of food allergies?
According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), incorporating commonly allergenic foods into your baby's diet starting at around 4 to 6 months (and continuing through childhood) may actually help prevent the development of food allergies.
Start with traditional first foods, such as iron-fortified infant cereal, pureed veggies, fruits, and meats. Once you've tried a few of these foods and your baby seems to be tolerating them well, you can introduce more commonly allergenic foods, such as soy, eggs, wheat, fish, and peanut products.
Food manufacturers have products on the market designed to help you incorporate commonly allergenic foods into your child’s diet. These stir-in powders and finger foods may contain one commonly allergenic protein or a blend of several.
Special precautions need to be taken with certain babies. If your child falls into any of the following categories, consult with your baby's doctor or an allergist to create a customized feeding plan before adding solids to your baby's diet:
- Your baby has a sibling with a peanut allergy.
- Your baby has moderate to severe eczema despite following a doctor's treatment plan.
- Your baby previously had an immediate allergic reaction to a new food or has been diagnosed with a food allergy.
- Your baby's blood test was positive for an allergy to a specific food.
How should I introduce solid food to my baby?
There's no one right way to do this.
The traditional way to start solids is by spoon-feeding your baby infant cereal or purees, but some parents use a different method called baby-led weaning. Using this method, you put large chunks of soft food on the highchair tray or table and let your baby grasp the food and feed himself.
See our article on baby-led weaning to find out how it works. To learn how to start spoon-feeding, read on.
For your first few feedings, give your baby just 1 or 2 teaspoons of pureed solid food or infant cereal after nursing or bottle-feeding.
Use a soft-tipped plastic spoon to feed your baby to avoid injuring his gums. Put a small amount of food on the tip of the spoon and offer it to him. If your baby doesn't seem very interested, just let him smell the food for now and try again another time.
If you're feeding your baby ready-to-eat jars or pouches of baby food, put some into a small dish and feed him from that. (If you dip his feeding spoon into the jar, it's not a good idea to save the leftovers because bacteria from his mouth will now be in the jar.) Throw away any open baby food jars within a day or two of opening them.
If you decide to start with cereal, give him 1 to 2 teaspoons of diluted infant cereal. Add breast milk or formula to a tiny pinch of cereal. It will be very runny at first, but as your baby starts to eat more solid foods, you can gradually thicken the consistency by using less liquid.
Begin with one daily feeding whenever your baby is not too tired, hungry, or cranky. Your baby may not eat much at first, but give him time to get used to the experience. Some babies need practice keeping food in their mouths and swallowing.
Eventually you can start giving him more solid food until he's up to a few tablespoons a day, over two feedings.
How do I introduce each new food to my baby?
Check with your pediatrician about this since opinions differ and the advice may be different if you have a family history of food allergies.
Experts have traditionally recommended introducing solids gradually, offering your baby each new food a few times before trying another new food. But the AAP now says its safe to start multiple foods at once.
Although you want your baby to eat a wide variety of foods, it takes time for her to get used to each new taste and texture. And each baby will have individual food preferences, but in general, your baby could start the transition with pureed or semi-liquid food, then move on to strained or mashed food, and finally graduate to small pieces of finger foods.
If your baby is moving on from cereal, offer a few tablespoons of vegetables or fruit in the same meal as a cereal feeding (or mix them together). All food should be very mushy – at this stage your baby will press the food against the top of her mouth before swallowing it.
What are the signs of a food allergy?
If your baby is allergic to a new food, you'll see signs of a reaction within a few minutes or hours. Most children with food allergies have mild reactions. If you notice hives, vomiting, or diarrhea, call your baby's doctor for advice.
If you notice wheezing, difficulty breathing, or facial swelling (including the tongue and lips), your baby may be having a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
How can I tell when my baby is full?
Your baby's appetite will vary from one feeding to the next, so a strict accounting of how much he's eaten isn't a reliable way to tell when he's had enough. Look for these signs that he's probably done:
- Leans back in his chair
- Turns his head away from food
- Starts playing with the spoon
- Refuses to open up for the next bite (Sometimes a baby will keep his mouth closed because he hasn't yet finished with the first mouthful, so give him time to swallow.)
Do I still need to give my baby breast milk or formula?
Yes, breast milk or formula will still provide the majority of your baby's calories and nutrition until she's a year old. Both provide important vitamins, iron, and protein in a form that's easy to digest. Solid food can't replace the nutrients that breast milk or formula provides during that first year.
Solid food feeding tips
- Offer sweets or savories in any order. Some parents may tell you to start with vegetables instead of fruits so your infant won't develop a taste for sweets. But babies are born with a preference for sweets, so you don't have to worry about introducing sweet or savory foods in any particular order.
- Feed cereal with a spoon only. Unless your baby's doctor asks you to, don't add cereal to his bottle – he could choke or end up gaining too much weight.
- Encourage adventurous eating. Don't leave any food off his menu simply because you don't like it.
- Give new foods time. If your baby turns away from a particular food, don't push. Try again in a week or so. He may never like sweet potatoes, or he may change his mind and end up loving them.
- Know the choking hazards. Don't give your baby foods that might make him choke.
- Watch for constipation. A baby's stool sometimes changes when his diet does. Although it's usually temporary, your baby may have constipation after introducing solids. If you notice that your baby is having less frequent bowel movements, or that his stools have become hard or dry and seem difficult to pass, let his doctor know. Some doctors recommend adding high-fiber fruits such as pears, prunes, and peaches to a baby's diet, or giving him a few ounces of prune, apple, or pear juice each day until his bowel movements are back to normal.
Also, don't be surprised if your baby's stools change color and odor when you add solids to his diet. If your baby has been exclusively breastfed up to this point, you'll probably notice a strong odor to his formerly mild-smelling stools as soon as he starts eating even tiny amounts of solids. This is normal.
How many times a day should my baby eat solid food?
At first she'll eat solid food just once a day. By around 6 to 7 months, two meals a day is the norm. Starting around 8 to 9 months, she may be eating solid food three times a day. A typical day's diet at 8 months might include a combination of:
- Breast milk or iron-fortified formula
- Iron-fortified cereal
- Small amounts of protein, such as eggs, cheese, yogurt, poultry, lentils, tofu, and meat
There are certain foods that you shouldn't give your baby yet. Honey, for example, can cause botulism in babies less than a year old. And babies should wait until after their first birthday to try cow's milk or soy milk.
What equipment do I need to feed solids to my baby?
It's helpful to have:
- A highchair
- Plastic dishes and bowls
- Plastic spoons to protect your baby's sensitive gums
- A splat mat on the floor
You may also want to introduce your baby to a sippy cup soon after you start solids.
What do I need to make homemade baby food?
If you're making your own baby food, you'll need:
- A tool to puree the food, like a blender, food processor, or baby food grinder
- Storage containers for refrigerating and freezing extra portions (Some parents use ice cube trays – or similar devices made just for baby food – to store and freeze individual portions.)
Where should I feed solids to my baby?
You'll want a sturdy, stable, comfy place for him to sit, at a convenient height for you. To start out, that might be a bouncy seat or even a car seat. (Just make sure that he's upright enough to swallow well.)
However, once he can sit up by himself, a highchair at the table is your best bet. That way, your baby can be a part of family meals, and you'll be able to eat and feed him at the same time. It's also easier to clean up after he chows down.
How can I help my child develop healthy eating habits?
Don't feel like you have to stick to bland, boring baby foods – get ideas for more adventurous options to give your child, or learn how to make your own baby food.
See our new rules for feeding your baby and the old guidelines that still apply.