How should I introduce solid food?
For most infants, you can start with any pureed solid food. While it's traditional to start your baby on solids with a single-grain cereal, there's no medical evidence to show that introducing solid foods in a particular order will benefit your baby. Good foods to start with include pureed sweet potatoes, squash, applesauce, bananas, peaches, and pears.
First, nurse or bottle-feed your baby. Then give him one or two teaspoons of pureed solid food. If you decide to start with cereal, mix it with enough formula or breast milk to make a semi-liquid. Use a soft-tipped plastic spoon when you feed your baby, to avoid injuring his gums. Start with just a small amount of food on the tip of the spoon.
If your baby doesn't seem very interested in eating off the spoon, let him smell and taste the food or wait until he warms up to the idea of eating something solid. Don't add cereal to your baby's bottle or he may not make the connection that food is to be eaten sitting up and from a spoon.
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 he gets used to his new diet, he'll be ready for a few tablespoons of food a day. If he's eating cereal, gradually thicken the consistency by adding less liquid. As the amount your baby eats increases, add another feeding.
How will I know when my baby's full?
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. (Sometimes a baby will keep his mouth closed because he hasn't yet finished with the first mouthful, so be sure to give him time to swallow.)
Do I still need to give my baby breast milk or formula?
Yes, your baby will need breast milk or formula until he's a year old. Both provide important vitamins, iron, and protein in an easy-to-digest form. Solid food can't replace all the nutrients that breast milk or formula provides during that first year. See how much breast milk or formula babies need after starting solids.
How should I introduce new food?
Introduce other solids gradually, one at a time, waiting at least three days after each new food. This way you'll get a heads-up if your baby has an allergic reaction to one of them (signs of an allergy may include diarrhea, vomiting, a swollen face, wheezing, or a rash). If there's a family history of allergies, or your baby develops an allergic reaction during this process, start waiting up to a week between new foods.
Talk to your baby's doctor about which solids to introduce and when. To play it safe, the doctor may recommend that you hold off on feeding your baby more allergenic foods like soy, dairy, eggs, wheat, fish, and nuts.
Even though it's a good idea to get your baby accustomed to eating a wide variety of foods, it'll take time for him to get used to each new taste and texture. Each baby will have unique food preferences, but the transition should go something like this:
1. Pureed or semi-liquid food
2. Strained or mashed food
3. Small pieces of finger foods
If your baby is transitioning from cereal, offer a few tablespoons of vegetables or fruit in the same meal as a cereal feeding. All food should be very mushy – at this stage your baby will press the food against the top of his mouth and then swallow.
If you're feeding your baby from ready-to-eat jars of baby food, scoop some into a little dish and feed him from that. If you dip his feeding spoon into the jar, you won't be able to save the leftovers because you'll have introduced bacteria from his mouth into the jar. Also, throw away any baby food jars within a day or two of opening them.
Some parents may tell you to start with vegetables instead of fruits so your infant won't develop a taste for sweets. But babies are born with a preference for sweets, so you don't have to worry about introducing food in any particular order. Also, don't leave any food off his menu simply because you don't like it. And stay away from foods that might cause him to choke.
If your baby turns away from a particular food, don't push. Try again in a week or so. He may never like sweet potatoes, or he may change his mind several times and end up loving them.
Don't be surprised if your baby's stools change color and odor when you add solids to his diet. If your baby has been exclusively breastfed up to this point, you'll probably notice a strong odor to his formerly sweet-smelling stools as soon as he starts eating even tiny amounts of solids.
This is normal. If his stools seem too firm (rice cereal, bananas, and applesauce can contribute to constipation), switch to other fruits and vegetables and oatmeal or barley cereal.
At about this time, you can also introduce your baby to water, which may help keep constipation at bay (although your baby will get all the hydration he needs from breast milk or formula).
You can offer 2 to 4 ounces of water per day in a sippy cup.
How many times a day should my baby be eating solid food?
At first he'll eat solid food just once a day. By around 6 to 7 months, two meals a day is the norm. By around 8 months he should be eating solid food three times a day. A typical day's diet at 8 months might include a combination of:
- Breast milk or iron-fortified formula
- Iron-fortified cereal
- Yellow, orange, and green vegetables
- Small amounts of protein such as poultry, lentils, tofu, and meat
Do I need any special equipment?
It's helpful to have a highchair, plastic spoons to protect your baby's sensitive gums, bibs, and plastic dishes and bowls. A splat mat on the floor can help keep messes to a minimum. You may also want to introduce your baby to a sippy cup soon after you start solids.
If you're making your own baby food, you'll need a tool to puree the food, like a blender, food processor, or baby food grinder. You'll also want to have storage containers for refrigerating and freezing extra portions. (Some parents use ice-cube trays – or similar devices made just for baby food – to store and freeze individual portions.)
Where should I feed my baby?
You'll want a sturdy, stable, comfy place for him to sit, at a convenient height for you. To start out, that might be a bouncy seat or even a car seat. (Just make sure that he's upright enough to swallow well.) Once he can sit up by himself, though, a highchair at the table is your best bet. Your baby will be able to participate in family meals, and you'll be able to eat your own meal and feed him at the same time. It'll also be easier to clean up after he chows down.