While there's been some evidence that starting solids too early (before 3 to 4 months) may increase the risk of asthma and eczema, the latest research doesn't show that waiting longer than that offers any allergy-reducing benefits either. One study from the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver found that waiting until after 6 months to introduce cereals did not protect against wheat allergies; it actually increased the risk of developing one. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises starting cereals between 4 and 6 months, and the study's authors say their results support that recommendation.
But the possibility of reducing allergies should not be the main factor determining when your baby starts solids -- your baby's hunger and other cues should. If your infant has begun needing to be fed at shorter intervals or seems hungry after breastfeeding or taking a full bottle, you should start giving some solids. If he's got good control of his head (it doesn't wobble when you hold him seated) that's another sign that he's ready. Rice cereal is typically a baby's first food because it's unlikely to trigger allergies, is easy to mix in a variety of consistencies, and is often fortified with important nutrients like iron and zinc.
Originally published in the February 2007 issue of Child magazine.