If you are planning to start solid foods for your baby, you have probably already received a fair share of advice from well-meaning friends and family.
These (often unsolicited!) tips might even contradict each other! Who should you listen to? Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for starting solid foods for infants.
1. When Can babies start to eat solid foods?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding (or infant formula) as the sole source of nutrition for infants under six months of age.
That does not mean that all children will be ready to eat solid foods the same day that they turn 6 months old. Certain other factors can give us a clue about whether or not they are ready, as listed below.
Holding their head up
To start feeding, babies should be able to sit on an infant high chair (or other similar seat meant for babies to eat) with good control of holding their head up.
Interest in food
Your baby might be ready to eat if they stare at you when you eat looking interested. They might even try to reach for what you are eating. Another sign of interest in food is when they open their mouth when they see food approach.
Moving food from a spoon to the back of the throat
Eating with a spoon might sound super easy, but it is not necessarily so. Readiness to eat includes being able to transfer food from the spoon to the mouth to swallow. That said, it is completely normal that during the first tries food will drip from their mouth and get everywhere. They are learning to work with this new texture, after being fed 100% liquids all their lives!
Are they big enough?
Babies are likely to be ready to eat solids after they have doubled their birth weight or weigh at least 13 pounds. This weight milestone can typically be achieved as early as 4 months, but all the above still needs to be met!
Definitely consult with your pediatrician if you are unsure about your baby’s readiness to start solid foods.
2. How do I feed my baby?
When you first start solid foods, your baby probably won’t be an expert at eating. This might cause frustration if they are very hungry and is presented with a completely different meal that they don’t know how to eat!
You can start by giving some breastmilk or formula first, then introducing a small amount of baby food with a spoon. Half a spoonful is a good small amount to start with.
At first, your baby might look confused and not know what to do. They might even push out the spoon. And they will for sure make a mess and food will be everywhere. All of it, it’s O.K. Gradually increase the amount of food in each feed, and you may finish with more breastmilk or formula.
3. What baby food is best to start with?
You will hear tons of stories from friends and families about the order in which to introduce solid foods. The truth is that for most babies, it does not matter which food is introduced first. Traditionally, single grain baby cereals are introduced first. There is absolutely no medical evidence behind this practice.
Some people say that vegetables must be introduced before fruits in fear that they will reject the veggies if the fruit is introduced first. Babies are already born preferring the sweet taste, and the order in which fruits are introduced does not change that, or make them like veggies more! That said, know that it can take many tries before your baby gets used to a new food item! Don’t give up 😉
Once your baby has learned to eat one food, gradually start to introduce other foods, one at a time. A few months after starting a solid diet, the baby’s diet should include a variety of foods including breastmilk (and/or formula), meats, cereals, veggies, fruits, eggs, and fish.
4. When can the baby try finger foods?
Once a baby knows how to sit on their own and take their hand to their mouth, they could begin trying finger foods. This is important so that they learn to feed themselves.
To prevent choking, make sure that any food that you provide is soft, easy to swallow, and cut in very small pieces. Examples: scrambled eggs, cooked pasta, well-cooked chicken cut in thin strips, cooked and cut potatoes, banana cut in small pieces, etc.
Beware of finger foods that can be choking hazards, such as whole grapes, nuts, popcorn, chunks of fruit or veggies, gooey sticky candy, hot dogs (including those marketed as “baby hot dogs”), among others.
5. Does my baby need water?
Healthy infants do not need to be given additional water. The water they need is in the milk they consume. I have already written about why you should never give water to a baby under 6 months.
As your baby starts to eat solids, water may be introduced in small amounts. Remember that even solid baby food contains a lot of water already in it. At this time, during very hot weather, a small amount of water may be offered.
6. How much food should I feed my baby?
As mentioned before, when starting to feed solid foods make sure to progress gradually. It’s fine if your baby does not want large amounts of food as they get used to all the new textures, flavors, and learning to swallow.
However, once your baby is a little bit more used to solid foods, you may start aiming at about 4 ounces of baby food at each of your child’s meals.
7. What to do if my baby refuses to eat?
The initial goal when introducing solid foods is to get baby to try these new foods and learn to swallow them. Do not force the baby to eat if they cry or if they turn their heads.
Remember that starting solid foods is a gradual process and not all kids will be ready at the same time, nor will they move forward at the same pace. It’s O.K. to take a break and go back to breastmilk (or formula) exclusively for a while before trying solids again.
You might be tempted to put baby cereals and other baby foods in the bottle mixed with milk to get the baby to swallow it easier. Do not do it! This can be a choking hazard and it gets you nowhere in the process of learning to swallow solids!
(Note: Baby cereal mixed with formula may be recommended to some babies who suffer from acid reflux. Consult with your pediatrician before doing this!)
8. Do I need to delay the introduction of nuts, eggs, etc. to prevent food allergies?
You can become allergic to basically any food item. There are certain foods that are more often associated with allergies, such as peanuts, eggs, dairy, fish, and soy.
Some people have speculated that delaying the introduction of these food items to later in life could decrease the chance of allergy developing. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Beyond waiting until your baby is 6 months old and ready to eat solids in general, there is no scientific evidence that delaying the introduction of these food groups prevents food allergies.
If you do believe that your baby has developed an allergic reaction to one of these foods (or any food!) such as developing a rash, vomiting, or diarrhea, talk to your baby’s doctor about it and how to go about with their diet.
9. Will my baby’s stools change after starting solids?
As a pediatrician, I must admit that I really enjoy the 6-month well child checkup because I get to talk about all the fun adventures of starting solid foods. One not-so-fun aspect of it is talking about the new kind of POOP that results from starting a solid diet.
Stools will become more solid and the color you are used to seeing will change. The color will greatly depend on what your child is feeding. For example, beets will turn poop reddish (and sometimes, their urine too!). Also, when you start solids… the poos will start to SMELL and be not-so-innocent anymore.
If your baby’s food is not strained, you may see tiny particles of undigested food such as vegetable skins or corn hulls. All of these changes are normal and expected.
10. Can I give my baby juice?
Infants under 12 months should not be given any juice at all. Juice reduces the appetite for other foods that are actually nutritious (I think of juice as liquid candy) and cause excess weight and diarrhea.
Juice has no nutritional benefit for children under 12 months old. Check out the revised recommendations about juice intake from The American Academy of Pediatrics.
11. Can I make my own baby food?
Many parents choose to make some or all of their baby’s meals at home. If you choose to do this make sure to cook from fresh ingredients and don’t add any salt or seasoning. You can use a food processor or blender to get it to the desired consistency.
I hope this post is of help for those planning to start feeding your babies solid foods! Or even if you are already enduring this wonderful (and likely frustrating) adventure, that it serves as confirmation that this is not an easy process… but it’s worth it!
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