Solid foods: How to get your baby started

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.

Is your baby ready for solid foods?

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.

What to serve when

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.

What if my baby refuses his or her first feeding?

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.

What about food allergies?

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.

June 07, 2016 See more In-depth