When's the right time to start feeding a baby solid foods?

Answer From Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

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.

What's so magic about ages 4 months to 6 months? It's around 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. Before this age, babies also have low levels of the enzymes that help with the digestion of starch.

Keep in mind that waiting until age 6 months before introducing solid foods to babies who are exclusively breast-fed can help ensure that they get the full health benefits of breast-feeding.

Starting solids too early — before age 4 months — might:

  • Pose a risk of sucking food into the airway (aspiration)
  • Cause a baby to get too much or not enough calories or nutrients
  • Increase a baby's risk of obesity
  • Cause upset stomach

Also, starting solids before age 4 months hasn't been shown to help babies sleep better at night.

Starting solids too late — after age 6 months — poses another set of issues. Waiting too long might:

  • Slow a baby's growth
  • Cause iron deficiency in breast-fed babies
  • Delay oral motor function
  • Cause an aversion to solid foods

Postponing the introduction of solids — including highly allergenic foods — beyond 4 to 6 months of age hasn't been shown to prevent allergic disease. In fact, delaying solid foods might be linked with the development of asthma, hay fever, eczema or food allergies.

In addition to age, look for other signs that your baby is ready for solid foods. Can your baby hold his or her head in a steady, upright position? Can your baby sit with support? If you answer yes to these questions and your baby's doctor agrees, you can begin supplementing your baby's liquid diet.

June 08, 2016 See more Expert Answers