When to Introduce Baby Food

By
Shelley Frost
- November 14, 2017

Solid Food Firsts for Your Little One

When to Introduce Baby Food
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Baby's first year is full of exciting milestones. One that many parents look forward to is finally introducing solid food. Those first few bites of baby cereal open up a whole new world of culinary delights after months of only eating breast milk or formula. However, waiting until your baby is ready to try solids is important for your baby's health and safety.

At What Age Should You Start Solids?

You quickly find with parenting that most milestones have a range instead of one specific age. That's because babies develop at different rates and are ready for things at different times. Eating solid food is no exception. Most babies are physically ready to eat solids somewhere between 4 and 6 months. Following your baby's lead helps you figure out where in that range your little one falls.

Signs Your Baby Is Ready for Solids

Instead of relying on the calendar to tell you when to start solids, look to your baby's behaviors and development to decide. Babies who are ready for solids show the following signs:

  • Holding her head steady and upright
  • Sitting unsupported
  • Double in birth weight with a weight over 13 pounds
  • Mouthing toys or hands
  • Showing interest in you eating
  • Reaching for your food

If your baby shows signs that he's ready, do a test run with a small spoonful of baby cereal. Does he open his mouth when the spoon comes his way? Is he able to move the cereal into his throat to swallow, or does he push it out of his mouth with his tongue? If he passes the test, he may be ready for more solids.

How to Transition to Solids

When you first introduce solid food, you're not immediately providing your baby's nutrition from the food. You're letting her explore the flavors and textures of solid food and practice eating those foods. Breast milk or formula is still the primary source of nourishment for your little one. You should continue breast milk or formula until at least age 1, when it is safe to start offering cow's milk.

Here's how to get started with solid foods:

  • Try solids when your baby is happy and well-rested. Avoid offering up solids for the first time when your baby is really hungry. This can cause frustration on your little one's part. Try nursing or bottle feeding for a short time before offering the solid food. Offer additional breast milk or formula after the solids if your baby is still hungry.
  • Start with only one type of food. The traditional option is an iron-fortified single-grain cereal designed for babies, but experts feel it's safe to try other baby foods first if you prefer.
  • Thin the food initially, so it is runny and easier to eat. Once your baby gets the hang of eating solids, make the food thicker.
  • Wait at least three days before introducing a new food. That waiting period gives you time to spot an allergic reaction, so you can figure out immediately what caused it. 
  • Use breast milk or formula as your baby's primary source of nutrition.
  • You can start introducing finger foods between 8 and 10 months. Offer finely chopped pieces of soft foods like fruit, cooked vegetables, cheese, soft meat and baby crackers.
  • Around 1 year, transition to serving your little one three meals with solids plus snacks. 

What to Look for in Baby Food

If you use jarred baby food from the store, it's important to know what to choose to make sure your baby gets a healthy diet. Single-ingredient foods are best initially. If your baby has an allergic reaction, it's easier to pinpoint the cause with single-ingredient options.

Read the label to make sure there's no added salt or sugar in the food. Babies don't need those ingredients. When choosing cereal, ensure it's iron-fortified.

Making Your Own Baby Food

You can find a variety of baby-food options at the store, but making your own baby food is relatively easy. Many of the foods you serve your family can work in baby food. If you steam sweet potatoes for dinner, cook a few extra to mash into baby food, for example.

Consider the pros of making your own baby food:

  • Control over what goes into the food
  • Healthier options without food dyes or preservatives
  • Often less expensive
  • Fresh with less processing to preserve food nutrients

There are also some potential drawbacks to consider before making homemade baby food:

  • Time-consuming to cook, prep and store the food
  • Shorter storage period
  • Texture differences if it isn't pureed well
  • Less convenient when you're traveling

Whatever method you choose to feed your baby, watching for signs of readiness helps guide the process.

About the Author

Shelley Frost relies on her experience as a mom and working professional to cover topics on sites such as Working Mother and Intuit. She runs her own business and has previous experience working in educational management, insurance and software testing. She routinely covers parenting, education and business topics in her freelance career.