When do babies start eating baby food? Find out when it's the right time for starting baby on solids, and how feeding baby food helps with gross motor skills.

By Tamekia Reece
December 18, 2014
baby eating solids
Credit: PhotoAlto/ Veer

Even if your baby loves his breast milk or formula, you're probably eager to feed him his first "real" food. "Feeding a baby solids for the first time is an enjoyable experience for both baby and parent," says Tyeshia Babineaux, M.D., a pediatrician with Texas Children's Pediatrics Corinthian Pointe in Houston. Not only do you get the warm, fuzzy feeling from seeing his little chubby cheeks filled with sweet potatoes, but you also get to try out the tiniest and cutest spoons and bowls! Your baby is the real winner though -- he gets to taste, play with, and cover himself (and you!) in tasty new grub! Before you pass the peas, it's vital to make sure your baby is truly ready, Dr. Babineaux says.

Type of Development: Gross Motor and Oral Motor Skills

Your baby has to achieve a couple of milestones before she's ready to have her first taste of cereal. She has to have good control of her head and neck and be able to sit upright with very little support. The tongue-thrust reflex, which causes young babies' tongues to push out any object placed in the mouth, must have disappeared (usually around 4 to 6 months). Additionally, she must have the oral motor ability to take in the spoon of food, move it with her tongue to the back of her mouth and swallow it, says John Walburn, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. But your baby's fine motor skills still aren't strong enough for her to hold a spoon or fork and feed herself at this age, so you need to control the actual feeding until she's a toddler.

When to Start Baby Food

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting until babies are 6 months of age before you introduce solid foods or ask your doctor about when and how to introduce solid foods. Starting earlier puts babies at risk for choking, eczema, possible allergies, obesity, and diabetes, Dr. Babineaux says.

One of the easiest (and cutest) ways your darling will let you know she's ready to try baby food is by showing interest in your food. She might open her eyes wide at the sight of your dinner, lean forward with her mouth open as you bring a spoonful of food to your own mouth, or, if she's feeling feisty, she may even try to swipe a biscuit off your plate! As long as she's within the suggested age range and meets the developmental requirements, it's okay to let her sample her first baby food. Just don't make this one mistake: using the bottle to introduce baby food. "Some families introduce solids through a bottle by cutting a larger hole in the nipple of a standard bottle or using a 'feeder' bottle," Dr. Babineaux says. This increases the baby's risk of choking, and makes it more likely for the baby to overeat. "If this is the only way the baby can start solids, chances are she's not ready," Dr. Babineaux says.

What Feeding Milestones Parents Should Expect

Whether your baby's first foray into the real-food world is with single grain cereal or pureed vegetables or fruit (traditionally, many babies start with cereal, but the AAP says either is fine because there is no evidence that introducing solid foods in any order is advantageous for your baby), things will get messy. During the first few feedings, expect the majority of the food to end up on your sweetie's face or bib, and on you. As your baby gets more practice taking food from the spoon, pushing it into the back of his mouth, and swallowing, he'll feed more of himself and less of everything else.

Don't be surprised if your baby snubs some foods at first (or altogether). Babies have food preferences, too. If your little muncher gives pears the big "no way," try them again some other time. He will also turn his head or push away the spoon to let you know he's good and full. Follow his cues. Don't limit your baby to jarred foods from the grocery store. You can use a baby food maker to puree regular table food, as long as you don't add sugar, salt, or other spices, Dr. Walburn says. At about 7 to 9 months, your baby can start to have chunkier delicacies (like tiny pieces of mashed bananas or slices of soft-cooked carrots); the food doesn't have to be pureed as long as food is in safe, bite-size pieces.

As your baby gets used to the feeding process (or feels you're moving too slowly), he may reach in to serve himself. Let him. Yes, it will be messier, but his fine motor skills get a workout as he mashes the food between his fingers, brings it to his mouth, or even attempts to use the spoon. The next step: self-feeding!

Red Flags to Watch Out For

Many parents are shocked to learn that once baby starts eating solids, bowel movements become...er, more solid and stinkier. This is normal, but contact the pediatrician if your baby:

  • has extremely hard or dry stools
  • chokes consistently while eating
  • develops a skin rash
  • has swelling of the lips or eyes
  • vomits or has diarrhea

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