Most babies are ready to begin eating solid foods as a complement to breast-feeding or formula-feeding between ages 4 months and 6 months. Experts cite that an important reason to start solid foods by 6 months is because that is when babies’ natural stores of iron begin to deplete, and some babies may not get enough iron in their liquid diets to replace them.
Your baby will show readiness to eat solids in several ways:
- Your baby’s physical development allows him or her to sit without support. When babies can sit easily, they have usually lost the tongue thrust reflex.
- Your baby watches you eat and demonstrates an interest in food.
- Your baby is able to reach out and grab objects
For most infants, you can start with any pureed solid food. A common first baby food is a single-grain, iron-fortified cereal such as rice cereal or oatmeal. These baby cereals have the advantage of boosting your baby’s iron intake, and they’re easy to digest. Just mix with a little baby formula, breast milk, or even water on occasion. Some other foods to start with include pureed sweet potatoes, squash, applesauce, bananas, peaches, and pears.
After introducing a new food, wait four to five days before giving your baby any new foods, so you can watch for signs of an allergic reaction. If your baby has several episodes of vomiting after trying a new food, has diarrhea, develops a rash, or has swelling of the lips or eyes, he or she may be having an allergic reaction. Stop the feeding and call your baby’s doctor.
Be aware that cereal, applesauce and bananas can cause constipation. If your baby becomes constipated, you may try giving him or her ounce or two of diluted prune or pear juice. You can mix your baby’s cereal with prune or pear juice. Or, try offering extra fruits like plums and peaches.
Begin with a once-a-day feeding, whenever it’s convenient for you and your baby, but not at a time when your baby seems tired or cranky. Your baby may not eat much in the beginning, but give him time to get used to the experience. Some babies need practice keeping food in their mouths and swallowing.
Once your baby has gotten used to her first solid food, she can begin to move on to more exciting options. As babies develop more teeth and chewing skills, you can offer them foods with more texture: Instead of pureeing veggies and fruits, try giving them in mashed-up form.
Whether your baby is eating purees or food with more texture, it’s always important to watch carefully and take precautions to prevent choking. Babies should always be fed sitting upright in a high chair, not reclining in a swing or car seat. And never offer baby foods that are clear choking hazards, such as whole grapes, hot dogs, or popcorn. Foods such as carrots, while great in cooked and mashed or pureed form, should only be offered to babies as finger food when cut into very small chunks.
Your baby’s appetite will vary from one feeding to the next, so a strict accounting of the amount he’s eaten isn’t a reliable way to tell when he’s had enough. If your baby leans back in his chair, turns his head away from food, starts playing with the spoon, or refuses to open up for the next bite, he has probably had enough.