Starting your baby on solid food can be a fun time as they reach a new milestone and get to try new foods and flavors.
But when is the best time to start, what should they eat, and how could it affect their milk intake? We’ll cover those questions and more below to help guide you as your baby starts eating solid foods.
When to start solid food
We recommend that you wait until 4-6 months to start giving your baby solid food. Up until then, breastmilk or formula should be their sole source of nutrition (and if you start solids between 4 and 6 months, the food will not be intended to substitute for milk in providing any nutrition—it is developmental in purpose). If babies are given solid foods, including baby cereal, before 4 months, their digestive system may not be ready. It may increase their risk of food allergies and may increase risk for obesity. Also, it’s important that you do not give your baby cereal in a bottle, unless your doctor recommends it.
Not all babies will be ready to start solid foods at the same time. You’ll want to make sure your baby is doing the following:
– Can sit up in a high chair or your lap with good head control and minimal support. They don’t, however, need to be able to sit independently
- Seems interested in food (watching you eat with interest, reaching for food, or opening their mouth for food)
- Can move food from their mouth and swallow. If you give your baby a spoonful of cereal or baby food and they push it back out or it dribbles down their chin, they may not have this ability yet. Wait a week or two and try again.
How to feed your baby solid food
This is an important time to set healthy food habits from the start and introduce your child to a wide variety of healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables.
When first starting solid foods, choose a time when your child is not hungry or tired to avoid frustration.
Introduce new foods gradually one at a time. There is no medical evidence that you need to introduce foods in any particular order. You can use jarred baby food, baby cereals, or create your own using a blender or food processor. If you make your own, you should cook all fresh foods with no added salt. You should cook most fruits and vegetables until they are soft and don’t require chewing.
As you are feeding your baby, watch for cues they are full, such as turning their heads or spitting out food.
Over time, encourage your baby to use spoons and fingers to feed themselves. By helping your baby learn to feed themselves, they will learn to self regulate how much they eat as well.
To give your baby finger foods, make sure the food is soft, easy to swallow, and cut into small pieces. Some good first finger foods are cut up banana or avocado, scrambled eggs, soft pasta, and cut up potatoes and peas.
If your baby doesn’t like something the first time, try, try again! It sometimes takes 10-15 tries over a period of time before a baby will accept a new food. To prevent waste, set aside small portions and save the rest for later in the fridge or freezer.
Babies with food allergies or food allergies in the family
In the past, doctors advised parents to avoid foods that were common allergens (such as dairy, eggs, peanuts, and other nut products). However, recent research indicates that late introduction of such foods can increase their risk of allergies. Before starting solids, talk to your pediatrician for recommendations for your baby. Babies at high risk for food allergies (severe eczema or strong family histories of allergic disease) might be referred for allergy testing prior to starting foods that are commonly associated with allergies, so if you are concerned about this, consult with your pediatrician.
If you notice a change in your baby after eating a particular food, such as diarrhea, a rash, or vomiting, consult with your pediatrician.
Having some liquid Benadryl in the medicine cabinet is useful just in case your baby has any potential allergic reactions to foods
How much and how often should I feed my baby?
When you first start giving your baby solids, they only need a few spoonfuls or small pieces of food. At this age, solid foods do not replace their breastmilk or formula, but rather complement it.
Between 6 to 12 months, breastmilk or formula is still an important part of your baby’s diet and will still provide most of your baby’s nutrients as your baby learns to eat solids. Their digestive system also is immature and needs time before it can fully process solid food. However, you can start to incorporate more complex proteins like meats and move toward giving “meals” of solids that may start to replace 1-2 milk feedings each day. Unless you and your pediatrician have discussed allergy concerns, the only food to definitely avoid is raw honey.
As your baby grows, they will increase how much solid food they eat and in turn will gradually decrease the amount of formula or breastmilk feedings they need. So, while a younger baby usually requires milk every two to three hours, by their first birthday, they may only need three or four milk feedings each day.
After 9 months, you should be offering your baby two to three healthy meals per day. Frequently these meals can be foods you and your family are eating at mealtime, just put into sizes and textures that are safe for your baby. Put a portion in a blender or baby food grinder, mash food up or cut it into small pinky-diameter pieces (your baby’s pinky) to decrease choking risk.
Continue to feed your baby breastmilk and/or formula for your baby’s first 12 months. You can continue breastfeeding after 12 months if you and your baby desire.
What about vitamin D and iron supplements for breastfed babies?
If your baby is breastfed, talk to your pediatrician, as they may recommend that you give your baby a vitamin D and/or an iron supplement during their first year.
From 6 months and on, when solids are starting to supply some necessary nutrients, meats, such as turkey, chicken, and beef are rich in iron and are good options to introduce to your baby. Beans and legumes are also iron-rich. Iron-fortified cereals are also an option to increase your baby’s iron intake.
What should my baby drink at meal times?
Offer your water in a cup. Do not give your baby juice or sugar-sweetened drinks since those can damage teeth and lead to obesity.
When can I switch to cow’s milk instead of formula or breastmilk?
After your baby is one year old, you may give them whole vitamin D cow’s milk as long as they have a balanced diet of solid foods. Try to limit milk to 16-24 oz/day to prevent a decrease in appetite for solid foods. Alternative milks (such as soy, almond, rice or coconut) are acceptable as long as they are calcium and vitamin D fortified. If your child is not eating a balanced solid food diet, or is overweight or has other health issues, speak to your pediatrician for guidance.