Published on in Health Tip of the Week
If your baby is giving grown-up food a lingering stare, leaning in toward mom with her every bite, or opening their mouth and smacking their lips like it’s their turn for a taste, it’s probably time to start introducing solid foods to their diet, says Kristen S. Treegoob, MD, a pediatrician at CHOP Primary Care, Haverford.
Here, Dr. Treegoob offers advice for when and how to introduce solid foods to babies. She encourages parents to consider the whole process an adventure – it will take some trial and error (and some messy mealtimes), but you and your baby will get there!
When should a baby start eating solid foods?
While there is no strict rule and each child develops at a different pace, full-term babies typically hit the mealtime milestone at 4 to 6 months of age.
At 4 to 6 months old, children naturally become more aware and interested in their environment. As parents know all too well, this is also the stage when they’re orally fixated to the point that they will try to put everything in their mouth. This is a signal it may be a good time to start introducing solid foods.
Dr. Treegoob encourages parents to ask their pediatrician questions around their baby’s 4-month checkup. Your pediatrician can help you learn about how to introduce solid foods to your baby safely, as well as help you decide when to do it.
How do I know when my baby is ready for solid food?
Before making the switch to solids, a child must have good head control, and have outgrown their tongue-thrust reflex, meaning they no longer push food away with their tongue.
When ready for solids, your child will open their mouth to accept food without spitting or pushing it out. But because it’s a new experience, the first few times may not go smoothly — even if your baby is ready. Keep trying if they spit out their food!
Babies who are ready to try solid foods will show interest in what family members are eating. They should also be capable of moving food from a spoon to their mouth and swallow without choking.
How to introduce your baby to solid food
Making the leap from breast milk or formula to solids should be a shared and enjoyable experience, but your child should also understand that meals are not playtime.
Use this as a rule of thumb on what to feed your baby — and when — during three developmental stages:
- Stage 1 (typically 4-6 months old): Start with purees (liquified foods) and begin with one to two tablespoons at a feeding.
- Stage 2 (typically 6-9 months old): At this stage, you can give your child thicker-consistency purees, and increase the volume to two to four tablespoons at a feeding.
- Stage 3 (typically 10-12 months old, but may occur sooner): At this stage, you can slowly replace purees with soft, chewable chunks of food, and offer your baby more finger foods that they can pick up and feed themselves.
For children who are slower to show interest in solid foods, have a strong gag reflex or immature chewing skills, eating solid foods may come a little later, and that’s OK. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns.
Other tips to ease the transition as you teach your baby to eat solids:
- Introduce one solid meal a day, and work up to three by the time your child is about 9 months old.
- Introduce a new single-ingredient food every three days. This way, it’s easier to pinpoint the cause of any potential allergic reactions — like diarrhea, vomiting or a rash — from specific foods. If introducing a food that has proven problematic to a sibling, do it in the morning. This allows time for any issues to surface and for you to seek medical help if needed.
- Include foods your family enjoys in order to build a palate compatible with the family.
- Don’t give up on a certain food until after multiple feeding attempts. Your child may not like something one day, but like it the next. Taste buds take a while to develop and picky eaters are not uncommon from 9 months of age to 2 years old.
While it’s recommended for parents of children at any age, knowledge of CPR can help boost parents’ peace of mind at mealtime.
What foods do you introduce to a baby first?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a wide variety of recommended menu choices when introducing solid foods to your baby.
Though in the past parents were advised to start their baby with single-grain cereals, such as rice cereal, the AAP now says there’s no medical evidence that introducing solid foods in any particular order has any advantage for your baby, whether nutritionally or when it comes to their long-term palate.
What’s most important is that your baby receives the iron-rich foods their body needs. Whether it comes from iron-fortified cereals or a natural source like smoothly pureed red meat is up to you.
As long as your child’s safety and nutritional requirements remain priorities, don’t be afraid to try different foods to find what pleases your baby’s palate. Focus on introducing a variety of flavors and textures.
What to do about dairy products?
It is absolutely OK to offer soft, milk-based foods from 6- to 12-months old. The only dairy product to avoid is whole milk, which does not offer the range of nutrients and iron that breast milk and formula have. It will take time for your baby to get enough nutrients from table foods (closer to 12 months for most) and your child should continue receiving breast milk or formula during that time.
It is safe to give your child yogurt and cheese, as these can be great sources of protein. Typically, we recommend whole-fat yogurt, but non-dairy yogurts and cheeses are also OK.
Within a few months of starting solid foods, your baby’s daily diet should include a variety of foods, such as breast milk, formula, or both; meats; cereal; vegetables; fruits; eggs; and fish.
What foods NOT to feed a baby
- Never feed a baby raw or cooked honey due to the risk of infantile botulism.
- No junk food or foods that may cause choking, including raw fruits and vegetables.
- Whole cow’s milk
- Adding salt or sugar to a baby’s food is not recommended, though spices like cinnamon are typically OK – just consult with your pediatrician about food seasonings first.
With all the concerns regarding food allergies, it’s important to note that there is no evidence that delaying the introduction of soft, baby-safe foods that are more commonly associated with allergies — such as eggs, dairy, soy, peanuts, or fish — prevents food allergy. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary: that early and continued introduction of these foods can reduce risk of allergies. These foods should be offered one at a time, and in a texture-appropriate way based on your child’s age and development.
For children with special needs, speak with your child’s pediatrician before making any dietary decisions. CHOP suggests reviewing these starter sample menus offered by the AAP.
Contributed by: Kristen S. Treegoob, MD