Starting Solid Foods

Dr. Alan Greene answers the question, What is the best way to introduce solids to my baby?


I recently began feeding my 5-month-old solid food. Her doctor told me she should eat every four hours, but she refuses to eat until six or eight hours after the last bottle. Even then she'll only eat very little. How many hours can a baby go without food? How should I arrange her meals? What should I be feeding her?


For most babies, the ideal diet for the first several months is breast milk or infant formula. The quantity gradually increases to about 32 ounces a day at about 4 months old. When an infant is getting enough milk but still seems hungry (particularly if she seems hungry when she observes you eating) it's probably a good time to start solid foods. For most babies this happens between 4 and 6 months. Some babies are ready for solids as early as 3 months, but most still have a strong tongue thrust reflex at this age that makes it very difficult to keep food in the mouth.

The first solid food is usually rice cereal, since it's so easy on babies' digestive systems. The first feedings may be at any time of day, but most families choose dinnertime. Either once or twice a day would be appropriate at her age. To begin, mix the cereal up so that it's quite dilute. Help your daughter sit up, then feed her the cereal in a small spoon.

For the first several days, more is likely to end up on her face than in her mouth. As long as she seems interested, continue to move the spoon toward her mouth. When she loses interest, stop. It's best to let her set the amount. It's fine to offer her a bottle afterward.

If she gets upset or doesn't seem interested at all, go back to bottlefeeding (or nursing) exclusively for a week or two, and then try again. There's certainly no rush before at least 6 months old. Even after she starts solids, she will get most of her calories and nutrients from what she drinks. If she seems frustrated because eating solids goes too slowly, try giving her a little milk first to take the edge off her hunger. She may be more willing to make the effort then. You might also try switching to oatmeal or barley cereal. Occasionally a baby will take to these better.

After you've introduced solids, she should continue to take 24 to 32 ounces of breast milk or formula per 24 hours. Most bottlefed, 5-month-old babies will take 5- to 6-ounce bottles four to six times per day. They can often go eight hours at a stretch once during a 24-hour period.

As long as she's happy and growing, you can relax. Feeding will progress naturally. There is no need to force her. If she's healthy, she will let you know if she's hungry and needing to eat.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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