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Baby looking at a spoon with food.

Starting Baby on Solid Foods: When and How

By Dr. Lynelle Slade-Byrd, Tidewater Children’s Associates

Learning how to feed a newborn can seem like a daunting task for new parents. Then, as soon as you’ve mastered the art of breastfeeding your baby, it seems like you have to start all over again as you begin the transition to solid foods.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding should be the only source of nutrition for your baby for about six months. You should continue breastfeeding while making the gradual switch to eating solid foods until they are at least 12 months old.

Learn when and how to transition your baby to solid foods with these tips.

Developmental Cues

While there is no universal age for when to start the switch to solid foods for your baby, there are some developmental cues that can help you determine if your child is ready.

  • Gaining necessary weight. Typically, at about 4 months old your baby’s weight should be double their birth weight. They may be ready for solid foods if they weigh 13 pounds or more.
  • Holding their head up. Before transitioning to solid foods, your baby should be able to safely sit in a high chair, feeding seat, or infant seat while holding their head up. 
  • Having an interest in food. If your baby is showing an interest in food by watching you eat, reaching for your food, or having an eagerness to be fed, they may be ready for solid foods.
  • Moving food from a spoon with their tongue.

If your baby is at least 4 months old and is showing the developmental cues above, you can start them on solid foods. However, even if your baby shows these signs before 4 months, you should wait. The risks of starting your baby on solid foods too early include choking or inhaling solid foods into the lungs due to not having the coordination necessary to swallow them as well as an increased risk of obesity later in life.

How to Transition to Solid Foods

Initially, your baby will still be getting most of their nutrition from breast milk or formula while you gradually incorporate solid foods. You should always feed solid foods to your baby after nursing, not before, so they fill up on breast milk and receive the nutrition they need. This will be the case until your baby is about a year old.

After a nursing session, you can feed them a single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal such as oat, barley, rice, or multigrain cereal. Avoid feeding your baby only rice cereal due to possible exposure to arsenic. Mix 1 or 2 tablespoons of cereal with breast milk, formula, or water. Iron-rich puréed meat is also an option for your baby’s first solid food. Feed them with a small baby spoon, not a bottle, unless your doctor recommends it.

Never force your baby to eat if they cry or turn away when introducing them to solid foods. Just return to breast or bottle feeding exclusively and try again in a couple of days.

As your baby becomes more comfortable eating solid foods, you can gradually increase the amount of food you give them and introduce others, such as puréed fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, or yogurt. You may introduce one new single-ingredient food from any food group every 3 to 5 days. Make sure to watch out for any allergic reactions but don’t avoid common food allergens, as recent studies show this can actually increase the risk of food allergies in your baby.

Starting Finger Foods

Once your baby is comfortable with puréed solid foods, can sit up, and can bring their hands and other objects to their mouth, you can begin giving them finger foods. Prevent choking by giving them soft, easy to swallow, small pieces of solid foods.

Some examples of safe solid foods include small pieces of banana, wafer-type cookies or crackers, scrambled eggs, well-cooked pasta, well-cooked and finely chopped chicken, and well-cooked, cut-up potatoes or peas. Your baby should be getting about 4 ounces of food at each meal.

Processed foods made for adults and older children should be limited as they can contain more sodium and preservatives. When giving your baby fresh foods, make sure they are cooked with no added seasonings and are blended or mashed. Refrigerate any leftovers and mark them with the date they were cooked. Check for signs that the food has spoiled before giving it to your baby.

At this stage, babies should not be given food that requires chewing or could be a choking hazard. Avoid foods such as hot dogs, nuts and seeds, chunks of meat or cheese, whole grapes, popcorn, chunks of peanut butter, raw vegetables, fruit chunks such as apple, and hard, gooey, or sticky candy.

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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.