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Starting Solid Foods: When, How, What to Consider

Only four short months have passed since you were full of questions about feeding your suckling infant. Now it seems that just when you've gotten the hang of breast- or bottlefeeding, that same baby is suddenly drooling over the sight of solid food. You probably feel as if you haven't had enough time to prepare for this, but the transition needn't be difficult.

While babies develop at their own pace -- for example, one baby might be ready for solids at 4 months, another at 6 months -- even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there are no rigid rules on expanding your child's diet. To relieve the pressure of what, when, and how much to feed, here's a rundown of advice to kick you and your baby off to a smooth start.

 

Out of all the milestones, baby's readiness for solids is probably the subtlest. It's not like when he's teething!

Relax and follow your budding epicure's cues:

By 3 or 4 Months

Baby will lose his tongue-thrust reflex, nature's way of keeping everything but liquids from entering a young infant's mouth. Next, he'll show interest in table food by drooling, opening his mouth, or leaning forward. By this point, he should have head control and be able to sit up with help. And more isn't always best: Don't jump into serving baby three meals a day. Gradually work up to it.

4 to 6 Months

It's mealtime. Start with iron-fortified rice cereal, which will provide baby with 30 to 45 percent of his daily requirement of the nutrient. Mix one teaspoon of cereal with 4 to 5 teaspoons of breast milk or warm formula until it has a semi-liquid consistency.

6 to 8 Months

Open wide! Individually introduce pureed fruits, oatmeal and barley cereals, vegetables, and strained meats. Space each trial run two to three days apart; look for allergic reactions like diarrhea, rashes, and wheezing. If your baby has a reaction to a food, try again within a few months and then consult her doctor.

7 to 10 Months

She's growing up fast. Baby is now ready for strained or mashed fruits and vegetables. She can also try yogurt. Pasta, some veggies (see veggie advice on the next page), and fruit should all be cooked until soft. (Bananas need to be mashed.) Meats and poultry should be finely chopped. With ever-increasing independence, baby is ready to try small finger foods that dissolve easily, such as Cheerios.

9 to 12 Months

By this point, baby is no longer a bystander at the family dinner table. Short of engaging in conversation, she is now noshing on entrees and sides like everyone else. But she still doesn't have the mouthful of choppers to handle everything, so feed her soft combination foods such as casseroles and macaroni and cheese and keep crunchier items bite-size.

Homespun Advice

Making your own baby food is something you might like to do. But certain vegetables -- beets, turnips, carrots, collard greens, and spinach -- may contain large amounts of nitrates.

Parents sometimes give young infants this produce, says Frank Greer, MD, on the AAP Committee on Nutrition, but in rare cases, nitrates from these vegetables may cause anemia. Some baby-food companies don't even test all the time for the chemical, Dr. Greer says. To reduce risk, refrigerate opened foods containing these ingredients, and throw away after 24 hours.

Which Comes First: Fruits or Veggies?

Don't stress over the choice, says Carol Berkowitz, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. If you think about it, "breast milk is sweeter than formula," she says.

So order doesn't matter: Give your infant pears before green beans if you want. Tasting the sweetness of fruit first won't turn baby off to veggies.

The Milk Enthusiast

A fine meal should be paired with the right drink. Solids don't replace breast milk or formula in the first year. Here, a guide to how much your baby will drink each day.

  • 4 to 5 months: 30 oz.
  • 5 to 6 months: 35 oz.
  • 6 to 7 months: 28 oz.
  • 7 to 9 months: 24 oz.
  • 9 to 12 months: 22 oz.

Babies don't chew much, so food that isn't cut into very small pieces is a risk. The AAP also recommends that no child under 4 years old be given any of the following fare:

  • Raw carrots
  • Apples (whole or large chunks)
  • Hard candies
  • Gum
  • Marshmallows
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Spoonfuls of peanut butter
  • Chunks of nut butter
  • Popcorn
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausages
  • Whole grapes

Best Table Bets

A fun place mat keeps baby happy. Stephan Enterprises' water-filled Train Placemat Set ($13; stephanenterprises.com) lets baby push a train through floating glitter around a track; it comes with a fork and spoon.

Unbreakable dishware is key. Jack Rabbit Creations' Supperware set ($34; trampolini.net) is made out of enamelware; melamine and plastic sets also work well.

Ready for a sippy? At around 7 to 9 months, baby can start to make the transition from bottle to cup. Gerber's Soft Starter ($4; gerber.com) feels good on baby's lips, and two handles help give him a secure grip.

Encourage fruits and veggies. To prevent baby from swallowing seeds -- and to let him taste fresh food before he's got many teeth -- place food slices in Munchkin's Fresh Food Feeder ($4; munchkininc.com). Baby strains the food himself by sucking it through the mesh bag.

Babies can feed themselves. Starting at about 7 months, baby can use Gerber's Lil' Dipper ($4 for 2; gerber.com) to eat cereal and mashed food.

Keep 'em covered. You'll want inexpensive bibs, but go stylish with one from Icky Products ($19; pamperedtot.com).

Fun Food Facts

  • Growing up but not a grown-up. At 6 months, infants only need about 850 calories per day from both solids and breast milk or formula.
  • When your infant rejects a new food, try again. Studies show it may take 8 to 9 tries for a baby to accept a food.
  • "I'm Full!" Although you won't hear this from your infant, his body language -- pursed lips or a turned head -- will tell you when your baby has eaten enough.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2005.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.