The American Academy of Pediatrics says you should start your child on solids between 4 and 6 months, but the answer really depends on your baby and when he's ready. Here are some signs that your little one may be ready for baby food:
How long should you continue with breast milk or formula feedings? These should stay in the picture until your baby is at least a year old. (At that point, babies can switch to whole milk.) 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 the bulk of her nutrition.
As soon as your little one 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. (That said, never force or pressure your baby to eat. If she isn't interested, just take her out of the high chair and move on.) "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 pediatrician Sara DuMond, M.D. "This means they should eat three meals a day with two to three snacks in between. And treat liquids, either formula or breast milk, as a complement to a meal, not as a meal itself."
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! Your baby will likely fling food everywhere, especially if you're practicing baby-led weaning. This is common and doesn't necessarily indicate a dislike. "Getting food into his mouth takes coordination and practice for the baby," Tanner says.
There are no hard and fast rules as to first foods, but here are some suggestions:
Honey It can cause botulism, a serious illness, if introduced too early.
Cow's Milk Stick with breast milk and formula as a primary beverage until your baby is a year old. It's fine to use cow's milk in cooking or baking, though.
Nuts, Popcorn, Whole Grapes, and Globs of Nut Butter These foods are choking hazards.