Both you and your baby should feel ready before trying baby food. Starting off well can lead to a lifetime of healthy eating habits for your baby. Here are some signs, tips and ideas to get your solid-food feeding off to a great start.
When to Start Your Baby on Solids
Until 12 months old, babies should receive most of their nutritional needs from breast milk, formula or a combination of both. That first year is a time of exploration and development that helps prime babies for the diversity of solid food. Starting on solids allows them to get accustomed to eating and establishing a feeding routine, as well as learning about textures and using utensils.
When you and your little one go to your 4-month-old check-up, your pediatrician may present the idea of starting your baby on solids. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing babies to solid foods when they’re between 4 and 6 months old. Ultimately, you have to do what’s right for you and your baby, keeping in mind that all babies develop at different rates. Gauge your baby’s cues and signs rather than forcing certain age benchmarks. In this case, the saying “age is just a number” really does ring true.
Look to your baby for these cues to tell if they’re ready to give solids a try:
- Does your baby seem fascinated when watching you eat? Do they reach toward your plate?
- Does your baby thrust food out of their mouth with their tongue? This is called the “extrusion reflex.” If your baby engages this motion, wait a couple weeks before trying again.
- Can your baby prop themselves up on their elbows while lying on their tummy?
- Does your baby demonstrate head control? Or does their head still wobble while being held?
- Can your baby sit up straight unassisted?
What Solids to Feed Your Baby
Stage 1 Feeding
Embarking on solid food can be divided into 3 distinct stages. Stage 1 foods are thin purees of fruits and vegetables that offer babies new tastes and textures in addition to breast milk or formula.
Here are a few tips for introducing Stage 1 solids:
- Starting small is key. The first time you feed your baby a Stage 1 puree, they might want only a few teaspoons—and that’s okay. The quantity will gradually increase.
- At first, try Stage 1 purees 3 times a day. Give your baby puree first, followed by breast milk or formula.
- Try to schedule feedings when your baby is happy, rested and alert, not fussy and tired. Timing is everything!
- Before bringing the spoonful of puree to your baby’s mouth, dab some on the high chair tray or table to give them a chance to examine and become familiar with the food.
- After the introduction, put a little puree on the tip of your baby’s tongue. Remember, easy does it! If your baby swallows it, put a bit more puree on their tongue, this time a little farther back.
If you start your little one on solids at 4 or 5 months, you may consider staying with Stage 1 purees for more than a few months. The decision to transition from stage to stage should be made based on your baby’s cues, not based on a calendar.
When to Start Feeding Baby Rice Cereal
In addition to fruits and vegetables, single iron-fortified grains are a popular choice for first foods. Bland in taste and smooth in texture, single grains will give your baby a chance to learn how to use a spoon. Rather than traditional rice cereal, consider trying fiber-filled, nutrient-dense choices such as buckwheat, millet, oatmeal or quinoa.
Stage 2 Feeding
When your baby has mastered taking food from a spoon and swallowing, it may be time for the next step: Stage 2, which includes thicker textured purees of fruits, vegetables and meats in combination. Other readiness cues include your baby using their jaw and tongue to mash food and your baby moving food in their mouth from side to side. Nurture Life offers a number of Stage 2 purees to start your baby on this journey of more complex ingredient and flavor combinations!
Stage 3 Feeding
When your baby starts reaching for food from the bowl, tray or spoon you’re feeding them from, it may be time to offer table foods. This is Stage 3. Make sure that your baby can hold small foods between their thumb and first finger and also that they can self-feed finger foods.
Here are a few signs that your baby needs more time before moving onto Stage 3. If you’re seeing these, don’t worry! Take a step back and continue with the textures of food that your baby has enjoyed so far. Wait one week, then try Stage 3 again.
- Is your baby choking, gagging or vomiting when attempting to eat larger pieces of food?
- Is your baby spitting out larger pieces of food when fed with a spoon?
- Is your baby clenching their mouth shut or pushing away large pieces of food, even when they’re hungry or at the beginning of the meal?
These readiness cues are important—other babies the same age as yours might take table foods with ease, but if your baby isn’t ready, give it more time. Paying attention to cues will make you a successful feeder, which will help your baby become a successful eater. Rushing the process can cause stress at the table, leading to negative experiences that can turn into bad eating habits later on.
How to Prepare Yourself for Starting Solids
Introducing and mastering solid foods is a transitional phase, and both you and your baby should feel ready. It’s perfectly okay if you don’t start when your baby is exactly 6 months old. Here are some tips for making the most of this new phase:
Brace yourself—your baby will resist certain solid foods. Many parents quit offering their baby a new food once it’s been rejected. But research shows it may take 6–15 tries before your baby accepts a new food. Try and try again, even if you think your baby doesn’t like the taste.
Get your baby used to new surroundings. Your baby might not immediately love that new high chair, spoon or bowl. Don’t worry—practice makes perfect. Have your baby sit in the high chair a few days before starting solid foods to get them familiar with the new environment.
Establish a baby food eating schedule. Dedicate time to feed your baby solids 3 times a day. This will make feedings easier for both of you. Offer solids first, then breast milk or formula. Your baby should be hungry, interested in eating and happy in the high chair.
Insist, and offer a variety of solid foods. Babies develop taste preferences based on their parents’ input. Try not to let your baby dictate what they eat. Instead, offer a variety of foods, such as butternut squash, red lentils or English pea purees each day so your baby can be exposed to different flavors and textures at an early age. More bitter vegetable flavors are especially important to include alongside sweeter fruit options. Remember, good habits start early—have a plan, and stick to it!
Minimize distraction when feeding. Turn off the TV and loud music. Keep your pets away from the high chair. Remove any toys from your baby’s sight. Turn off all devices (phone, tablet, laptop, etc.). Set the mood. A calm environment helps you and your baby focus on the task at hand.
With thoughtful guidance and planning, you’ll be able to smoothly introduce your little one through all 3 baby food stages. Don’t feel pressured to start your baby on solids before they show physical signs of being ready. Most importantly, the decision for your baby to start solids is one that should happen only when you and your baby are ready.