Most babies are ready to start eating solid foods when they are between 4 and 6 months old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Some signs that indicate your child is ready to start chowing down include:
- Being able to sit up without help
- Having good head and neck control
- Putting their hands in their mouth
- Showing interest in food by opening the mouth or leaning forward when it’s time to eat.
In addition to making sure your baby is developmentally ready, you may also want to balance other AAP advice when deciding when in that window to start solids. The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding until babies are 6 months old, so I generally suggest that nursing mothers wait until then before beginning solids. For breast- and bottle-fed babies, 5 or 6 months old is often a good age. Exclusively bottle-fed babies may start solids closer to 4 or 5 months old, but again only if they are showing signs of readiness.
When introducing solids, start with a single-ingredient food. Many parents choose baby cereal because it’s easy to control the consistency. You can mix baby cereal with breast milk or formula. Make the mixture thin at first and use a spoon to feed it to your baby. You can gradually make a thicker cereal as your baby becomes more skilled at eating. Another good option is a well-mashed fruit or vegetable, such as a banana or an avocado.
When you start feeding your baby solids give your baby one new food every few days. That way you can make sure that your baby doesn’t have food allergies. After a few days, you can try another food.
After you give your baby different foods with one ingredient, move on to foods with two or more ingredients. Over time you can give your baby foods that are thicker and that contain small chunks, such as bits of pasta. This helps your baby get used to different foods and learn to chew. Babies can usually start picking up pieces of food to feed themselves at about 8 to 9 months old.
Babies younger than 1 year old should not drink cow’s milk—it doesn’t contain enough nutrition for them. They also shouldn’t eat honey because it can contain bacterial spores that their immature digestive system can’t easily handle. Uncut hot dogs, whole grapes, popcorn, hard candies, and nuts pose a choking hazard and should be avoided in children younger than 4 years old.
It’s okay to give your baby juice in a cup after they are 1 year old, but try not to offer more than 4 oz. of juice per day. Drinking too much juice can lead to diarrhea, cavities and other problems. It’s healthier for children to eat pieces of whole fruit, which contain more nutrients and fiber.
—Natalya Nadal, MD
Dr. Natalya Nadal is a pediatrician at Vancouver Clinic. She believes in educating patients and families and encouraging healthy lifestyle choices.