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The Complete Guide to Starting Solids

The American Academy of Pediatrics says you should start your child on solids between 4 and 6 months. Within this window, look for some of these developments:

baby eating

Linda Farwell

  • Can sit upright and hold up his head
  • Is curious, looking at everything around him
  • Has mastered tongue movement
  • Seems hungry after getting a full day's portion of milk (eight to 10 breastfeedings or about 32 ounces of formula)

 
Should Baby Still Drink Breast Milk or Formula?

How long should you continue with breast milk or formula feedings? These should stay in the picture for a while. They provide necessary nutrition, and your baby is used to them -- she'll be comforted by the feel of a nipple and the taste of milk or formula.

Give baby the breast or bottle first thing in the morning, before or after meals, and before bedtime. At the beginning, you'll have to experiment to find what works best. If she's a big drinker -- say, if she'd drink a whole bottle before a meal, given the chance -- feed her first with food and then with a bottle. If she's a moderate drinker, try the opposite. Until she's 7 to 10 months, your baby will probably still drink the majority of her calories. So mealtime is more about her getting used to the act of eating and learning the tastes and textures of foods than it is about providing nutrition.

  • Up to 9 months, feed her 20 to 28 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 3 to 4 hours.
  • At 9 to 12 months, feed her 16 to 24 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 4 to 5 hours.

What Should the Feeding Schedule Be?

As soon as baby understands the concept of eating and is excited by and interested in mealtime (this usually happens between 6 and 9 months), start her on a routine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even if she isn't hungry at times, she'll get used to the idea of eating on a schedule. "My goal for the babies I care for is to get them on a big-boy or big-girl eating schedule by the time they turn 1," says Sara DuMond, MD, a pediatrician and American Baby advisory board member. "This means they should eat three meals a day with two to three snacks in between (give finger foods such as baby crackers or teething biscuits). And treat liquids, either formula or breast milk, as a complement to a meal, not as a meal itself."

  • At 4 to 6 months, feed her two meals, each two to four tablespoons.
  • At 7 to 12 months, feed her three meals, each the size of baby's fist.

What Should the Mealtime Routine Be?

A baby needs focus to eat, so start a routine where you wash his hands, soothe him, and then sit him down to eat. And maintain the calmness. Turn off the TV and any loud music. "This will help your baby become conscious of eating and learn to recognize when he's full," says Marilyn Tanner, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

It will take time for your baby to feel comfortable with the new sensations that go along with eating -- the feel of a spoon in his mouth and the tastes and textures of different foods. "I reassure parents that you might get grimaces and horrible faces," says Laura Jana, MD, co-author of Food Fights. "My daughter used to shriek when I put a spoonful of food in her mouth. But she wanted more."

And get used to messes! Baby will likely fling food everywhere. This is common and doesn't necessarily indicate a dislike. "Getting food into his mouth takes coordination and practice for the baby," Tanner says.

 
What Should Baby Eat?

  • Single-grain cereals (4 to 6 months) The level of iron that is stored up while in utero drops after birth, and a baby reaches an all-time low at around 9 months. That's why cereals are fortified with iron and why they're a good first food. Combine one teaspoon of single-grain cereal with four to five teaspoons of breast milk or formula. Once your baby is used to swallowing runny cereal, thicken it by adding more cereal
  • Pureed veggies, fruits, and meats (4 to 8 months) Some doctors say eating fruits before vegetables can cause a lifelong preference for sweet foods, but there's not much research to back that up. So it's up to you whether to begin with bananas or carrots.
  • Chopped, ground, or mashed foods (9 to 12 months) If your child isn't ready to move to this stage, it's fine to stay with pureed foods a little longer. When he's ready, offer him some finely chopped or mashed finger foods -- try graham crackers, soft fruits and veggies, and ground meats. It's also safe to feed your child soft rice and casseroles at this point.

 

What Foods Should Baby Avoid?

Honey It can cause botulism, a serious illness, if introduced too early.

Citrus Check with your doctor to determine whether baby's at risk for an allergic reaction. If she is, citrus can cause eczema or a nasty diaper rash.

Cow's Milk Stick with breast milk and formula; both are rich in iron, unlike cow's milk.

Nuts, Popcorn, Raisins, Dried Cranberries, and Globs of Peanut Butter These foods are choking hazards.

What Worked for Real Moms

"My daughter is a great eater. About the time she started solids, we got her one of those 101-piece plastic food sets. She loved playing with it and learning the names of different foods. I think it helped familiarize her with some of the things she was eating and with food in general."
-- Betsy Goldberg, New York City

"Charlotte liked her food whole rather than in pieces. For example, she liked holding a whole pancake and nibbling tiny bites versus eating the small pieces I cut for her. Same was true of a slice of turkey."
-- Robin Immerman Gruen, Chicago

"Having a high chair that reclined made a world of difference. The cereal we started Evan on was completely runny, and being able to tip him back put gravity on our side."
-- Mindy Long, Annandale, Virginia

Originally published in the November 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.Updated 2010

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