Solid foods are a big step for a baby. Find out when and how to make the transition from breast milk or formula to solid foods.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Giving your baby his or her first taste of solid food is a major milestone. Here's what you need to know before your baby takes that first bite.

Breast milk or formula is the only food your newborn needs, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months after birth.

But by ages 4 months to 6 months, most babies are ready to begin eating solid foods as a complement to breast-feeding or formula-feeding. It's during this time that babies typically stop using their tongues to push food out of their mouths and begin to develop the coordination to move solid food from the front of the mouth to the back for swallowing.

In addition to age, look for other signs that your baby is ready for solid foods. For example:

  • Can your baby hold his or her head in a steady, upright position?
  • Can your baby sit with support?
  • Is your baby mouthing his or her hands or toys?
  • Is your baby interested in what you're eating?

If you answer yes to these questions and your baby's doctor agrees, you can begin supplementing your baby's liquid diet.

Continue feeding your baby breast milk or formula — up to 32 ounces a day. Then:

  • Start simple. Offer single-ingredient foods that contain no sugar or salt, and wait three to five days between each new food. This way if your baby has a reaction — such as diarrhea, rash or vomiting — you'll know the cause. After introducing single-ingredient foods, you can offer them in combination.
  • Important nutrients. Iron and zinc are important nutrients in the second half of your baby's first year. These nutrients are found in pureed meats and single-grain, iron-fortified cereal. Beans, lentils or other culturally acceptable foods might also be appropriate.
  • Baby cereal basics. Mix 1 tablespoon of a single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal with 4 tablespoons (60 milliliters) of breast milk or formula. Don't serve it from a bottle. Instead, help your baby sit upright and offer the cereal with a small spoon once or twice a day. Serve one or two teaspoons after a bottle- or breast-feeding. Once your baby gets the hang of swallowing runny cereal, mix it with less liquid and gradually increase the amount you offer. Offer a variety of single-grain cereals such as rice, oatmeal or barley. Avoid offering only rice cereal due to possible exposure to arsenic.
  • Add vegetables and fruits. Continue gradually introducing single-ingredient foods that contain no sugar or salt. Start with pureed vegetables and then offer fruits. Wait three to five days between each new food.
  • Offer finely chopped finger foods. By ages 8 months to 10 months, most babies can handle small portions of finely chopped finger foods, such as soft fruits, vegetables, pasta, cheese, well-cooked meat, baby crackers and dry cereal. As your baby approaches age 1, offer your baby three meals a day — as well as snacks — with mashed or chopped versions of whatever you're eating.

This is not unusual. Babies often reject their first servings of pureed foods because the taste and texture is new. If your baby refuses the feeding, don't force it. Try again in a week. If the problem continues, talk to your baby's doctor to make sure the resistance isn't a sign of a problem.

To help prevent food allergies, parents were once told to avoid feeding young children highly allergenic foods such as eggs, fish, peanuts and tree nuts. Today, however, there's no convincing evidence that avoiding these foods during early childhood will help prevent food allergies. New research also suggests that desensitizing at-risk children to peanuts between ages 4 and 11 months may be effective at preventing peanut allergy.

Still, especially if any close relatives have a food allergy, give your child his or her first taste of a highly allergenic food at home — rather than at a restaurant — with an oral antihistamine available.

Juice isn't a necessary part of a baby's diet, and it's not as valuable as whole fruit. Too much juice might contribute to weight problems and diarrhea, as well as thwart your baby's appetite for more-nutritious solid foods. Sipping juice throughout the day or while falling asleep can lead to tooth decay.

If you offer juice, wait until your baby is at least 6 months or older. Make sure the juice is 100 percent fruit juice. Limit the amount your baby drinks to 4 to 6 ounces (118 to 177 milliliters) a day — about one food serving of fruit — and serve it in a cup. Juices containing vitamin C might improve your baby's absorption of iron.

Certain foods are not appropriate for babies. Consider these guidelines:

  • Don't offer cow's milk or honey before age 1. Cow's milk doesn't meet an infant's nutritional needs — it isn't a good source of iron — and can increase the risk of iron deficiency. Honey might contain spores that can cause a serious illness known as infant botulism.
  • Don't offer foods that can cause your baby to choke. As your baby progresses in eating solid foods, don't offer hot dogs, chunks of meat or cheese, grapes, raw vegetables, or fruit chunks, unless they're cut up into small pieces. Also, don't offer hard foods, such as seeds, nuts, popcorn and hard candy that can't be changed to make them safe options. Other high-risk foods include peanut butter and marshmallows.

Another reason to avoid giving your baby solid food before age 4 months is the risk associated with certain home-prepared foods. A baby younger than age 4 months should not be given home-prepared spinach, beets, carrots, green beans or squash. These foods might contain enough nitrates to cause the blood disorder methemoglobinemia.

When feeding your baby, give him or her your full attention. Talk to your baby and help him or her through the process. In addition, to make mealtime enjoyable:

  • Stay seated. As soon as your baby can sit easily without support, use a highchair with a broad, stable base. Buckle the safety straps.
  • Encourage exploration. Your baby is likely to play with his or her food. Although it's messy, hands-on fun helps fuel development. Just make sure that finger foods are soft, easy to swallow and broken down into small pieces.
  • Introduce utensils. Offer your baby a spoon to hold while you feed him or her with another spoon. As your baby's dexterity improves, encourage your baby to use a spoon.
  • Offer a cup. Feeding your baby breast milk or formula from a cup at mealtime can help pave the way for weaning from a bottle. Around age 9 months, your baby might be able to drink from a cup on his or her own.
  • Dish individual servings. If you feed your baby directly from a jar or container, saliva on the spoon can quickly spoil leftovers. Instead, place servings in a dish. Opened jars of baby food can be safely refrigerated for two to three days.
  • Avoid power struggles. If your baby turns away from a new food, don't push. Simply try again another time. Repeated exposure can help ensure variety in your baby's diet.
  • Know when to call it quits. When your baby has had enough to eat, he or she might cry or turn away. Don't force extra bites. As long as your baby's growth is on target, he or she is likely getting enough to eat. Also, don't try to get your baby to eat as much as possible at bedtime to get him or her to sleep through the night. There's no evidence that this works.

Enjoy your baby's sloppy tray, gooey hands and sticky face. You're building the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating.

June 07, 2016