When Do Babies Start Eating Solid Food?

Confused about the recommended timeline for starting solids? Here's when to introduce new textures and tastes to your infant's diet.

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 regarding 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 (AAAAI) 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.

The AAP points out that although most babies are ready to begin transitioning to solid foods around six months, that doesn't mean all babies are. Babies reach developmental milestones at their own pace, so don't hurry the process; starting too early can be risky.

According to Natalie Muth, a pediatrician and co-author of The Picky Eater Project, what's not OK 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.

If you think your baby is ready to try solid foods, make sure to start slow and don't abandon their nursing schedule. The AAP encourages parents of breastfed babies to continue nursing for as long as they want or until two years or more. They also recommend talking to your pediatrician for guidance on iron and vitamin D supplements.

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. That's because, developmentally, their bodies and brains are getting ready to take those first bites of solid food. But before they can, a few big milestones must happen first.

Signs your baby is ready to eat solids

If you're unsure if your baby is ready for solids—or if you're nervous to start and want to know what the concrete signs of readiness look like, watch your child for the following.

  • 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 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 solid 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 three to five days between new foods, so it's easier to pinpoint allergies, according to the AAAAI. They also note that babies with a sibling or one biological parent with a food allergy are at an increased risk of developing one. So, be sure to watch their reactions to foods closely and space out the introduction of new foods if food allergies are a concern in your family.

Potential signs of food allergy reactions in infants include:

  • Bloating
  • Increased gas
  • Rash around their mouth or anus
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose or eyes
  • 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.

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