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Expert Advice: When should your baby start solid foods?

Published on Dec 29, 2021. By Amy Roach
toast orange fruit bread

As with all things baby, determining when to start solid foods is both a highly personal choice and a process that can seem overwhelming. If your head is spinning trying to figure out everything you need to know about introducing solids to baby, you’re definitely not alone. The good news is that the time period surrounding baby’s first foods can be really fun and exciting once you get the hang of it. Our best advice? Be patient, have fun with it, and don’t worry about the mess!

Here’s a handy guide to help get started on solid foods for baby.

When should my baby start solid foods?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding (or formula for parents who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed) as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for about 6 months. But many experts say babies are ready for solid foods beginning when they are about 4 to 6 months old. This is the point at which babies need the added nutrition—such as iron and zinc—which solid foods provide. (Introducing solids to baby before 4 months is universally not recommended.)

Every baby is different, of course, so watch for these signs that signal baby is ready for solids:

  • They can sit upright and hold their heads up. This usually occurs around 5-6 months, once the neck muscles have developed and strengthened enough to allow for control.
  • They appear curious about food, watching you—and maybe mimicking, mouth open—during mealtimes.
  • They no longer have the tongue thrust reflex that instantly pushes food out of their mouth (this is an anti-choking reflex). 
  • They still seem hungry, despite consuming 8-10 breastfeedings or getting a full day's portion (about 32 ounces) of formula.
  • They have roughly doubled their birth weight and/or weigh about 13 pounds or more.

The AAP stresses that even once baby starts eating solid foods, breastmilk or formula must still constitute a large part of baby’s diet. Here’s a breakdown of the best way to pair the two together:

Breastmilk/formula:

  • Up to 9 months, feed your baby 20 to 28 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 3 to 4 hours.
  • At 9 to 12 months, feed them 16 to 24 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 4 to 5 hours.

Solids:

  • At 4 to 6 months, feed your baby two meals, each two to four tablespoons.
  • At 7 to 12 months, feed them three meals, each the size of your baby's fist.

What should I feed my baby first?

Once you’ve determined when to start solid foods, you’re likely going to have a lot of questions about what to feed your little one. Picking baby’s first foods is a combination of determining personal preferences—what you’d like your baby to eat and what baby seems to like—and taking into account available research and expertise around the best solid foods for baby. It’s a good idea, also, to consult with your pediatrician for their specific recommendations about what to give baby first.

Before feeding baby the first spoonful of anything, however, be sure you’re aware of these important tips: 

  • Start small: just a spoonful or two of any food is enough at first to give baby a taste of the flavor and watch for their reaction. 
  • Beware of choking hazards: make sure all food is pureed and/or thinned with breast milk or formula. 
  • During the initial feeding period, serving single ingredient foods, one at a time, is recommended to observe for symptoms of intolerance or allergy. Once foods are tolerated—baby has consumed it 2-3 times with no issues—they can be combined.

Here are some general guidelines on what is recommended for introducing solids to baby, by age:

4 to 6 months:

Start with single-grain infant cereals, such as rice or oatmeal, diluted with breastmilk or formula—at a ratio of one teaspoon cereal to 4-5 teaspoons liquid. You can thicken the cereal by decreasing the amount of liquid once baby gets the hang of eating it. Fortified with iron, and with a mild taste and texture that’s appealing to infants, these cereals are an ideal first food.

5 to 8 months:

This is when you can start to introduce baby foods like pureed vegetables, fruits, and meats. You’ll find a wealth of options for organic, high-quality purees of early foods like peas, carrots, squash, bananas, pears, apples, chicken, and meat. After 6 months is also an ideal time to introduce baby to allergenic foods including peanut and eggs. While previously parents were advised to wait a full year before introducing these foods, new evidence shows that early introduction of allergenic foods can actually reduce the risk of developing food allergies. Consult with your pediatrician before introducing these foods, however, and especially if your baby has eczema, as this can be a signal that they may develop food allergies as well.

Around 8 months:

Time for single-ingredient finger foods! Self-feeding is an important developmental step and babies naturally take to it. Small pieces of soft foods that dissolve easily are what you want at this stage. The best early finger foods include:

  • puffs and dry cereal 
  • teething biscuits and/or small pieces of toasted bread
  • bite-size portions of soft fruits like banana and veggies including avocado and broccoli
  • bite-size portions of scrambled eggs and cheese (if you’ve introduced egg and dairy)

9-12 months:

At this point, baby can start to transition away from pureed food and toward foods with more texture. Try yogurt, cottage cheese, and mashed versions of food like bananas, sweet potatoes, and carrots. This is also the time to amp up their iron intake, so including more beef, chicken, and turkey (still pureed, though, as the stringy texture of regular proteins can still be a choking hazard) is a smart bet.

Please consider renting any baby gear you need for feeding from Loop, including bottle warmers, high chairs, and nursing pillows.

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