Introducing first foods is a big milestone. Babies rely mostly on milk for their first 10-12 months of life, but they also have plenty of opportunity to discover favorite flavors.
When Should I Start Solids?
Infants live on breast milk or formula alone for the first months of their lives. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months. If your brand-new baby still seems hungry after breastfeeding, offering more milk may be the solution. You can talk to a lactation consultant or pediatrician if you’re concerned about milk supply.
Some babies are ready for solids earlier or later than others. Generally, your pediatrician may advise you to introduce solids sometime between 4 and 6 months, or whenever your baby shows clear signs of readiness:
- Sitting well with support: Babies need to be able to hold themselves upright in a high chair or other feeding chair to eat safely
- Good head control: A steady, stable head is a must to reduce choking risk.
- “Extrusion reflex” disappears: Also known as “tongue thrust reflex,” this is when your baby instinctively spits out food placed on their tongue. As babies grow more ready for solid food, the reflex naturally disappears.
- Fascinated by food: Your baby’s watching your fork move between your plate and mouth as intently as if it were a world championship tennis match. Maybe he reaches for your food, pats his own mouth, or moves his jaw up and down to mimic your chewing.
- Weight gain: Doubling birth weight is a reassuring sign to pediatricians that your baby is growing and developing well, including developing her digestive system to handle new foods.
Good First Foods for Baby
Some pediatricians still recommend rice cereal as a first baby food. Others say you can start immediately with foods your family enjoys (in a baby-friendly form, of course). Fruits and vegetables are often easiest. Try offering a spoonful of:
- Sweet potato
- Butternut squash
Pureed meats, such as beef, turkey, or chicken, can also add protein and iron to a baby’s diet.
Some foods are harder to digest than others. Depending on history of food allergies in your family, you may want to consult your pediatrician before introducing common allergenic foods. Foods to watch include:
- Nut butters
- Salt (babies may have difficulty processing much sodium)
- Sugar (aim to avoid any added sugars before your baby’s first birthday)
- Honey (botulism risk makes this food a no-go for babies under 12 months)
What Is Baby-Led Weaning?
Some parents prefer to follow a style of solid food introduction called baby-led weaning. Don’t let the name deceive you: It has nothing to do with cutting down on breastfeeding. Babies need to get the bulk of their nutrition from milk for most of their first year of life. Instead, this practice refers to letting babies feed themselves right from the start, and often avoiding purees altogether. Fans say baby-led weaning promotes healthy self-regulation and hand-eye coordination.
If you’re interested in trying it out, start with soft foods to minimize choking risk. Shredded, flaky fish, well-roasted or boiled vegetables, or soft fruits can be good starter foods. Since your baby may still be learning a pincer grasp, prep foods in big enough pieces to grab easily.