When and How to Start Solid Food for Babies
Between friends, family and the Internet, advice on when and how to start solid food for babies is often conflicting, weirdly specific, and generally overwhelming. It all combines to make the transition stressful, but it doesn’t have to be — because there’s no single, right way to start babies on solids. Introducing your baby to solid food is a universal process of trial and error. That said, there are a few general guidelines to follow.
When to introduce solid food to a baby
There is no exact or precise ‘right time’ to start solid foods, but most babies tend to need supplementary baby food around four, five or six months of age. Up until this time, pediatric guidelines globally recommend exclusive breastfeeding. Regardless of whether you breast feed or use formula, other factors make this age range the right general time for babies to start trying their first foods. By this age:
- Babies’ digestive systems have developed sufficiently to be able to then process solid foods.
- Babies develop the muscular control to hold the weight of their head steadily.
- Babies develop the muscular ability to sit upright without wobbling.
- Babies develop the ability to move their tongue around to push food to the back of their mouth and swallow. (It may take some testing with puree to help babies develop this skill; if you place the food in their mouths and it just dribbles out, they’re likely not yet ready.)
What foods to introduce to a baby first
This is very subjective, though traditional advice typically holds vegetables and grains as the first foods babies should be introduced to. However, the most important rule is to introduce a single, pureed food at a time, gradually introducing more singly pureed items, one at a time. The goal is that within a few months, your baby’s diet is a rotating and wide variety of grains, fruits, vegetables and proteins. The best part of this is that no baby food recipes are necessary — babies don’t need salt or other seasoning, so it’s simply a matter of steaming and/or blending, depending on the food.
Recently revised pediatric guidelines suggest including allergy-linked foods in this rotation, as early exposure may help in preventing food allergy. But be on the watch for signs of an allergic reaction, like diarrhea, vomiting, or rash.
Whatever food you choose to start with, initially, only a spoonful or two may make in a baby’s mouth. Over time, babies will work up to one meal, of around 100 to 120 mL, a day. By around 6 to 7 months of age, they’ll start needing two meals of solid food, and they’ll gradually work up to three meals of solid food from there. Throughout this time — up until babies are roughly 12 months old — they’ll still get most of their sustenance from breast milk or formula.
Over time, as babies’ fine motor skills develop, you can start giving them small chunks of soft food — soft banana, or well-cooked, plain dal — instead of puree.
How to start your baby on solid food
When it comes to actual feeding, there are two schools of thought. The first is a more traditional method, which involves the adult feeding the baby with a spoon.
The second is known as baby-led weaning; it’s a slightly misleading phrase, as it doesn’t require babies to cease breast or formula feeding. Rather, it skips the step of pureeing food, and goes straight to putting small amounts of soft food in front of the baby and letting the baby use their hands to smush the food and feed themselves.
Advocates of baby-led weaning say it helps instill healthy food habits by attuning babies to their hunger and letting babies control how much they eat. They also point to the fact that feeding oneself is an extra opportunity for babies to practice and develop fine motor skills. But no permanent advantages of baby-led weaning have been proven. It comes down, mostly, to what is convenient for parents.
Babies don’t always initially take to every food; often, if a baby rejects a certain food, it may not be because they dislikes it, so much as they’re not used to it. Try circling back to that food at a later date, instead of giving up entirely.
Also, some pediatric advice suggests feeding babies a small amount of breast milk or formula first, before introducing the solid food. For some kids, this might take the edge off their hunger so they’re more receptive to trying the new food.
When it comes to starting babies on solid food, it’s all about paying attention to what your baby is capable of, and trial and error. With a little patience, you’ll figure it out, and so will they.