Introducing your baby to solid food

Set your baby up for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Introducing your baby to solid food

Prior to starting your infant on solid foods, take a second and think about why you want to start on the food adventure. Early in infancy, breast milk is the best food for your baby and has all the nutrients your baby needs to grow and thrive.

Sometimes infants are started on solid foods early because parents want them to sleep better. We know from research that starting solid foods doesn’t improve infant sleep, and starting too early can actually be dangerous (more on that later). Some parents start foods because they want their infant to experience new things. This is a great concept and you want to work toward your child enjoying a number of healthy food options early, to avoid food battles later.

When it is time to start foods, consider the first few months as practice. Set your expectations and be okay if your child doesn’t take more than a few bites at a time in the beginning.

When to introduce solid foods

Most infants are ready to start solid foods between 4 and 6 months of age, which is a big window. Starting before this time isn’t necessary and can pose some risks to your child. Early introduction of foods can increase your baby’s risk of stomach infections, affect weight gain and some believe it may increase the lifelong risk of obesity.

When your baby is over 4 months of age, start watching for clues they are ready and interested in solid food. First, they need skills that allow them to safely eat solids. Your baby should be able to sit up with little assistance. Check to see if their tongue-extrusion reflex is decreasing. You can check this by putting your finger up to your babies lips and see if they push at the finger with their tongue. If they do this strongly they may not be ready.

Then, watch their reaction to seeing you eat. Do they watch you intently? Are they trying to take bites of your food? If you are seeing these signs, it may be time to start exploring baby foods.

Foods to feed your baby first

If you ask around you’ll hear lots of rules about feeding your baby solid foods. Some of the rules come from good evidence, and others come from habit. When you decide your child is ready to try solids, get out the bib and camera and get ready for some great parenting moments.

Really, there is no perfect first food. Historically, parents were told to start with rice cereal. There is no a reason this has to be your baby’s first food.  Start with a small portion (1 to 2 tablespoons) and know only a fraction of that may make it into your baby’s stomach. The consistency should be thin.

Start by trying foods once or twice a day. Pick one food and don’t introduce another for three days. You can continue to give your child foods they have previously tolerated. This lets you monitor your child for reactions such as vomiting, rash or diarrhea. In the unlikely event they have a reaction, you’ll know which food to blame. Talk with your doctor if you think your child is reacting to a specific food.

Gradually introduce veggies, cereals, fruit, dairy and meats. If your child seems to not like something, try it again at another time. It can take at least 10 attempts to know your child truly doesn’t like the taste of a certain food.

Foods to avoid

There are only a few foods to avoid. Honey is off limits until 1 year of age, due to a potential risk of an infection called botulism. Avoid cow’s milk simply because it’s not the best nutritional choice for your infant when compared to breast milk or formula. Also, watch out for small foods like nuts and hard candies because they can be choking hazards.

Your baby can have foods that contain peanuts, as long as they do not pose a choking hazard. If there is no family history of severe food allergies, it is okay and even recommended to start foods like peanuts between 4 and 6 months of age. New information shows that continual exposure to things that typically cause allergies: fish, nuts and wheat can actually decrease the risk of developing allergies.

Starting foods is fun

So what’s the bottom line? Starting food is fun. Just do it at the right time and with the right attitude, and it will go smoothly. Consider this your chance to set up healthy eating for life and prioritize nutrient rich foods (think whole foods without additives) for your baby.

If you have any questions about your child and feeding or have a family history of food allergies speak with your pediatrician. They can give you advice individualized to your child.

Posted In Children's, Health Information