The Complete Guide to Starting Solids

Introducing your baby to solid foods is an exciting milestone. Here's everything you need to know about when to start, what to start with, and more. 

How To Start Solids

  • When Should Baby Start on Solids?

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:

    baby eating Linda Farwell

    • He can sit upright and hold up his head.
    • She is curious, looking at everything around her--especially what you're eating!
    • He has lost the tongue thrust reflex that automatically pushes food out of his mouth.
    • She still seems hungry after getting a full day's portion of milk (eight to 10 breastfeedings or about 32 ounces of formula).

    Remember, there's no need to rush this milestone. Most babies are ready between 5-6 months. Don't start solids before four months. 

    Should Baby Still Drink Breast Milk or Formula?

    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.

      • Up to 9 months, feed her 20 to 28 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 3 to 4 hours.
      • At 9 to 12 months, feed her 16 to 24 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 4 to 5 hours.

      What Should the Feeding Schedule Be?

      As soon as your baby 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, MD. "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."

        • At 4 to 6 months, feed her two meals, each two to four tablespoons.
        • At 7 to 12 months, feed her three meals, each the size of baby's fist.

          What Should the Mealtime Routine Be?

          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.

          What Should Baby Eat?

          There are no hard and fast rules as to first foods, but here are some suggestions: 

          • Single-grain cereals (4 to 6 months) The level of iron that is stored up while in utero drops after birth, and a baby reaches an all-time low at around 9 months. That's why cereals are fortified with iron and why they're a good early food. Combine one teaspoon of single-grain cereal with four to five teaspoons of breast milk or formula. Once your baby is used to swallowing runny cereal, thicken it by adding more cereal.
          • Pureed veggies, fruits, and meats (4 to 8 months) You may have heard that eating fruits before vegetables can cause a lifelong preference for sweet foods, but there's no research to back that up. So it's up to you whether to begin with bananas or carrots, or pureed chicken for that matter.
          • Single-ingredient finger foods (6 to 8 months) Whether you've begun with purees or are starting solids just with finger foods, may babies enjoy experimenting with self-feeding from an early age. Don't offer any hard, raw foods, such as apple slices or carrot sticks at this point. Make sure fruits and veggies are soft enough to mash with gentle pressure between your thumb and forefinger. The shape matters too. Younger babies will be picking foods up with their whole palms, so a mound of mashed potatoes or a wedge of avocado will be easier to handle than smaller foods. 
          • Chopped, ground, or mashed foods (9 to 12 months) As soon as your child is able, transition him away from smooth purees. Incorporate more finger foods and make sure there's texture in any mash. It's also safe to feed your child soft rice and casseroles at this point.
          • RELATED: Easy Homemade Baby Food Recipes

          What Foods Should Baby Avoid?

          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.

            3 Ways Encourage Healthy Eating Outside of Mealtime

            • Read books about fruits and vegetables.
            • Offer your child food and cooking-themed toys.
            • Talk up healthy foods during normal conversation. You'll be surprised how much your baby absorbs!