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Solid foods: How to get your baby started

Solid foods are a big step for a baby. Find out when and how to make the transition from breast milk or formula to solid foods.

Updated: 2024-05-31

Giving babies their first taste of solid food is a big step. Here's what you need to know before your baby takes that bite.

Is your baby ready for solid foods?

Many health agencies and healthcare professionals recommend breastfeeding babies for the first 6 months. During this time, breast milk or formula is the only food your newborn needs.

But by ages 4 months to 6 months, most babies are ready to have solid foods added to their diet of breast milk or formula.

During this time most babies stop using their tongues to push food out of their mouths. Instead they use their tongues to move food from the front of the mouth to the back to swallow it.

Besides age, other signs that babies are ready for solid foods include being able to:

  • Hold their heads up.
  • Sit with little support.
  • Bring their hands or toys to their mouths.
  • Show they want food by leaning toward the food and opening their mouths wide.
  • Show when they're full by leaning back and turning away.

If your baby can do these things and your baby's healthcare professional agrees, you can begin adding solid food to your baby's liquid diet.

What to serve when

Keep feeding your baby up to 32 ounces a day of breast milk or formula. When adding foods, offer a variety of healthy foods.

Start simple

Offer foods with only one ingredient and no added sugar or salt. Wait 3 to 5 days between each new food to see if your baby reacts. A reaction could be diarrhea, a rash or vomiting. If there's no reaction, you can start giving foods that have more ingredients.

Needed nutrients

Babies need iron and zinc in the second half of their first year. These nutrients are found in meats that are blended smooth, called pureed, and single-grain cereals with added iron.

Baby cereal basics

Mix 1 tablespoon of a single-grain baby cereal with added iron with 4 tablespoons (60 milliliters) of breast milk or formula. For more nutrients, use cereal made from whole grains.

Don't serve food from a bottle. Help your baby sit up. Give the cereal with a small spoon once or twice a day after a bottle feeding or breastfeeding. Start by serving 1 or 2 teaspoons.

Once your baby can swallow runny cereal, mix it with less liquid and increase the serving size little by little. Offer different single, whole-grain cereals such as brown rice, oatmeal or barley. Don't feed your baby only rice cereal because rice can have arsenic in it. For that reason, don't give your baby brown rice syrup or rice milk.

Add vegetables and fruits

Slowly add single vegetables and fruits that are blended smooth, called pureed. Make sure they have no added sugar or salt. Wait 3 to 5 days between each new food.

Offer finely chopped finger foods

By ages 8 months to 10 months, most babies can handle small amounts of finely chopped, soft finger foods. These can include soft fruits, vegetables, pasta, cheese and well-cooked meat. They also can include foods that dissolve in the mouth easily, such as baby crackers and dry cereal.

Add water

When your baby starts eating solid food, it's time to offer water with meals. While breastfeeding or drinking formula, there's no need for water. But get your baby used to drinking water with meals. Learning to drink water instead of juice or other sweet drinks will start a healthy habit for life.

What if my baby refuses solid food?

Babies often won't eat solid food at first. This is because the taste and feel is new. If your baby won't eat, don't force it. Try again in a week. Keep trying. If your baby keeps refusing, talk to your baby's healthcare professional to make sure there isn't a problem.

What about food allergies?

Once your baby has tried foods like cereal, meats and vegetables with no problem, experts suggest adding foods that might cause an allergic reaction. These foods include:

  • Peanuts.
  • Tree nuts.
  • Eggs.
  • Dairy products such as cheese and yogurt.
  • Wheat.
  • Shellfish such as shrimp and crab.
  • Fish.
  • Soy.
  • Sesame.

While processed dairy products are ok, experts suggest waiting to give your baby cow's milk until after age 1.

For the other allergens, waiting to give these foods to babies doesn't prevent food allergies, according to current research. In fact, giving babies foods that have peanuts early might lower the risk of a peanut allergy.

Give your children their first taste of a food that can cause allergies at home, not while dining out. Have an oral antihistamine ready just in case. If there's no reaction, increase the amount of the food little by little.

Is juice OK?

Unless your baby's healthcare professional suggests it, juice isn't recommended for babies younger than age 1.

Most babies don't need juice to have a healthy diet, which already includes mashed or pureed whole fruit.

If you give your baby juice, go for 100% fruit juice with no added sugar. Up to 4 ounces a day can be part of a healthy diet.

Too much juice can lead to diarrhea or diaper rash. Over time, juice can raise the risk of tooth decay and weight gain.

Know what not to feed

Don't give babies cow's milk or honey before age 1. Cow's milk isn't a good source of iron to meet baby's iron needs. Honey might have spores that can cause a serious illness known as infant botulism.

Avoid foods that can cause choking.

As your baby adds more solid foods, don't give hot dogs, chunks of meat or cheese, grapes, raw vegetables, or fruit chunks, unless you cut them into small pieces. Also, don't give hard foods, such as seeds, nuts, popcorn and hard candy.

Other foods that can cause choking include marshmallows and clumps of sticky food like peanut butter.

To prevent choking, spread peanut butter in a thin layer or blend peanut butter or peanuts smooth, called pureed, with fruits or vegetables.

Making baby food at home

There are many reasons to make baby food at home. These include saving money and making sure the food is healthy. But babies younger than 4 months shouldn't have spinach, beets, carrots, green beans or squash made at home. These foods can have enough nitrates to cause a blood condition called methemoglobinemia.

Make mealtime fun

During feedings, talk to your baby. And as soon as your baby can sit easily without help, use a highchair with a broad, stable base and safety straps. Putting a sheet under the highchair makes cleanup easier.

Let your baby explore

Babies like to play with their food. Make sure that finger foods are soft, easy to swallow and broken into small pieces.

Use a spoon and cup

Give your baby a spoon to hold while you use another spoon to feed the baby. As your baby is able, get your baby to use a spoon.

Feeding your baby breast milk or formula from a cup during meals can help with getting your baby off a bottle, called weaning. Around age 9 months, babies might be able to drink from a cup on their own.

Dish out servings

If you feed your baby from a jar or other container, the baby's spit on the spoon can quickly spoil what's left in the container. Put servings in a dish. You can keep open jars of baby food in the fridge for two days.

Know when to stop

If your baby turns away from a new food, don't push. Try again another time.

When babies have enough to eat, they might cry or turn away. Don't force extra bites. Babies who are growing well likely are getting enough to eat. Also, trying to feed babies more at bedtime to get them to sleep through the night doesn't work. So don't try to force it.

Exploring solid foods can be a messy process but an important one. You're starting your baby on a path to healthy eating for life. If you can, try to be relaxed during mealtimes and enjoy your baby's sloppy tray, gooey hands and sticky face.