Many new parents wonder about the right time to start feeding solid food to their babies. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), most babies can begin eating solid foods between the ages of 4 and 6 months. However, the AAP recommends exclusive breast-feeding for at least the first four months and preferably the first six months. Once you begin the switch to solid foods, you should follow a few simple rules to ensure a smooth and healthy transition for your baby. Continue to feed your baby breast milk or formula during the entire first year to ensure that he receives all the nutrients his body needs for healthy development.
Babies begin to show certain signs when they're ready to eat solid foods. For example, she should be able to hold her head in a steady, upright position and sit up with support. In addition, she may show interest in the food that you're eating or open her mouth when you offer her a spoon. Always check with your pediatrician to confirm that your baby is ready for an expanded diet.
Your baby's body requires nutrient-rich foods, and he can chew and digest pureed foods more easily. Parents traditionally begin the transition with single-grain cereals, but the AAP does not recommend a specific order for the introduction of solid foods. If you do begin with cereal, buy the kind made specifically for babies with the extra nutrients they need. Other appropriate starter foods include pureed avocado, sweet potatoes, bananas and pears.
Babies need to transition gradually to solid foods. In the beginning, offer your baby 1 or 2 tsp. of solid food while continuing a breast-feeding or formula routine. Provide the solid food after breast milk or formula. Place a small amount of food on a soft-tipped plastic spoon and put in your baby's mouth. If she's not interested in eating it at first, let her sniff or lick it. Continue to offer small amounts of food with her regular milk until she begins to eat them. Because every child is different, no hard-and-fast rules exist as to how much solid food a baby should eat. Babies generally eat as much as they need to eat, according to pediatricians. For example, around the age of 4 to 6 months, your baby may eat between 1 and 3 tbsp. of solid foods at one or two meals. By 6 to 8 months, he may eat up to 8 oz. of solid foods over two or three meals. Follow your baby's cues - if he closes his mouth as the spoon approaches or begins spitting out his food, he is probably full.
It takes time for babies to adjust to solids, so it's best to familiarize her with new foods one at a time. Pediatricians recommend serving the same item for at least two or three days and up to four days before moving on to another food. Meanwhile, watch out for allergic reactions such as diarrhea, rashes or vomiting. If these symptoms occur, cut that food out of the baby's diet and talk to your child's doctor.
Allergies can be a serious problem for babies, so it's best to avoid mixed-ingredient foods until you know your baby isn't allergic to any of the individual ingredients. Also stay away from certain potentially allergenic foods such as peanut butter, corn, tree nuts, egg whites and acidic fruits as well as foods, such as grapes, that may pose a choking hazard. Do not use seasonings or give the child carbonated or caffeinated beverages.
By the age of 8 to 10 months, your baby may be ready for finely chopped finger foods. These can include meats such as poultry or beef, soft fruits such as bananas and pears, pasta, cheese and graham crackers. By this age, many babies eat three meals a day, including a fruit, a vegetable, a grain and/or a meat.
Between the ages of 9 and 12 months, you can incorporate soft combination foods, such as macaroni and cheese or spaghetti, into your baby's diet. Yogurt, cheese and beans may also be added at this time. As your baby nears his first birthday, he will be ready to eat mashed or chopped versions of your family's regular fare.