When Do Babies Start Eating Solid Food?
Wondering when babies eat solid foods? The standard recommendations can seem confusing, so we've broken down guidelines and suggested timelines for introducing baby food.
When Babies Should Eat Solid Food
Guidance has gone back and forth over the past few decades as to when babies should eat solid foods. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says to wait until about six months if you're exclusively breastfeeding, while the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology says four to six months is okay. Most pediatricians and pediatric dietitians agree babies should start between four to six months, depending on their readiness.
What's not OK, according to Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and co-author of The Picky Eater Project, is starting solids before four months. "It provides no benefit and can cause harm, including the increased risk of later weight problems, food allergies, and more risk of choking," she says.
You should also be careful not to start solids too late. After six months, breast milk or formula alone may no longer be able to meet the nutrient needs of infants, so complementary foods can help. Solids also introduce babies to textures and flavors, which help them become more adventurous in the future.
Is Your Baby Ready for Solids?
How can you know if your baby is ready for solids? Follow their cues, says Dina DiMaggio, a pediatrician from New York City and co-author of The Pediatrician's Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers.
Most babies show signs of readiness between five to six months. They include:
- Having good head control. Even if your baby can't quite sit up on their own yet, they need to be able to hold their head up in order to start eating solids.
- Being able to sit up with support.
- No more tongue thrust instinct. This reflex causes a baby's tongue to automatically push food out of their mouth, and it's meant to stop choking.
- Showing interest in trying food. "When your baby is staring at you while you are eating and trying to grab your food, it's a good sign it's time to start solids," Dr. DiMaggio says.
What Should I Feed My Baby?
Infant cereals are common first foods, but don't need to be the only option; meats, vegetables and fruits can also be good choices. The answer might also depend on whether you decide on baby-led weaning or the traditional spoon-feeding approach.
There's no specific order to introduce foods; just wait two to three days in between new foods so it's easier to pinpoint allergies. Potential signs include bloating, increased gas, a rash around their mouth or anus, diarrhea, runny nose or eyes, and unusual crankiness.
As for the notion of offering vegetables first so your child doesn't only like sweet fruits, that's a myth that has never been tested. "There is no proof that veggies work best. But we do know that it's important to expose babies to a variety of flavors, not just the sweet they already love," adds Natalia Stasenko, a London-based pediatric dietitian and co-author of Real Baby Food.
As always, if you have questions speak to your baby's pediatrician.