Your baby may be starting to take an interest in solid foods. What should you be serving her?

The question of when your baby should start eating solid food is one on which everyone has an opinion-including your parents, who are likely to brag that you ate cereal at 6 weeks, and your neighbor, who claims solids helped her infant sleep through the night. But it's a question that only your baby, your doctor, and you can decide. If your little one is ready for that historic first taste, he'll give you some unmistakable signs-sitting up, drooling, and opening his mouth when he sees food approaching. He'll also lose his "tongue-thrust" reflex-which causes him to push food out of his mouth-and start reaching for the food on your plate.

Typically, these traits do not begin to emerge until after the fourth month of life, and the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends that the introduction of solid foods be delayed at least that long, and possibly even until 6 months of age. Why? Starting solids earlier will be frustrating, since very young babies lack the skills to move food to the back of their mouths, and pointless, since breast milk or formula meets all your infant's nutritional requirements at this stage. Also, there is no evidence to indicate that solids help babies sleep through the night any sooner. In fact, solid food may actually cause problems for the immature digestive system and, as a result, keep your baby awake late into the night!

On the other hand, introducing solids much later than 6 months of age can also cause difficulties, since an older baby too accustomed to sucking may not take as easily to the new tricks of chewing and swallowing and the unfamiliar tastes of solid food. Again, talk to your doctor if you think the time might be right.