You can introduce solids any time between 4 and 6 months if your baby is ready. Until then, breast milk or formula provides all the calories and nourishment your baby needs and can handle. His digestive system simply isn't ready for solids until he nears his half-birthday.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for at least six (6) months—though parents will attest that some babies are eager and ready to eat solids earlier.
How do I know when my baby's ready?
Your baby will give you clear signs when he's ready to move beyond liquid-only nourishment. Cues to look for include:
- Head control. Your baby needs to be able to keep his head in a steady, upright position.
- Losing the "extrusion reflex." To keep solid food in his mouth and then swallow it, your baby needs to stop using his tongue to push food out of his mouth.
- Sitting well when supported. Even if he's not quite ready for a highchair, your baby needs to be able to sit upright to swallow well.
- Chewing motions. 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. As he learns to swallow efficiently, you may notice less drooling – though if your baby's teething, you might still see a lot of drool.
- Significant weight gain. Most babies are ready to eat solids when they've doubled their birth weight (or weigh about 15 pounds) and are at least 4 months old.
- Growing appetite. He seems hungry – even with eight to ten feedings of breast milk or formula a day.
- Curiosity about what you're eating. Your baby may begin eyeing your bowl of rice or reaching for a forkful of fettuccine as it travels from your plate to your mouth.
How do I introduce solid food?
- For most infants, you can start with any pureed solid food—pureed sweet potatoes, squash, applesauce, bananas, peaches, and pears.
- Start by nursing or bottle-feeding. Then give baby one (1) or two (2) teaspoons of pureed solid food. IWith cereal, mix with enough formula or breast milk to make a semi-liquid. Use a soft-tipped plastic spoon with just a small amount of food on the tip.
- If your baby lacks interest in eating off the spoon, let him smell and taste the food or wait until he warms up to the idea of eating something solid. Don't add cereal to your baby's bottle—he may not make the connection that food is to be eaten sitting up and from a spoon.
- Begin with a once-a-day feeding. Do this whenever convenient for you and your baby, but not when your baby seems tired or cranky. Your baby may not eat much in the beginning, but give him time to get used to the experience. Some babies need practice keeping food in their mouths and swallowing.
- Once he gets used to his new diet, he'll be ready for a few tablespoons of food a day. With cereal, gradually add less liquid to thicken the consistency. As the amount your baby eats increases, add another feeding.
How do I introduce new food?
- Introduce other solids gradually, one at a time. Wait at least 3 days after each new food, to see if your baby has an allergic reaction to one of them—watch out for allergy signs, such as diarrhea, vomiting, a swollen face, wheezing, or a rash. If you have a family history of allergies, or your baby develops an allergic reaction during this process, provide an interval of up to a week between new foods.
- Talk to your baby's doctor about which solids to introduce and when. To play it safe, the doctor may recommend that you hold off on feeding your baby more allergenic foods like soy, dairy, eggs, wheat, fish, and nuts.
- While it's good to get your baby used to eating a wide variety of foods, give him time to get familiar with each new taste and texture. With your baby’s food preferences, plan the transition like this: pureed or semi-liquid food > strained or mashed food > small pieces of finger foods.
How many times a day do I feed my baby solid food?
- At first, feed your baby solid food just once a day.
- By around 6 to 7 months, feed baby two (2) meals a day.
By around 8 months, feed baby solid food three (3) times a day, during which a typical day's diet might include a combination of: breast milk or iron-fortified formula; iron-fortified cereal; yellow, orange, and green vegetables; fruit; and small amounts of protein such as poultry, lentils, tofu, and meat.