Starting your baby on solid foods is the beginning of lifelong eating habits that will contribute to his or her overall health. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding your child only breast milk or formula for the first four to six months of life. After that, a combination of solid foods and breast milk or formula should be given until your baby is at least a year old. After babies reach six months, their nutritional needs call for more than what breast milk or formula can provide alone.
What Age to Start
Be cautious of starting babies on solid food too soon. Starting solid foods too early can cause babies to develop food allergies. This is because their intestinal tract and immune system are not yet fully developed; introducing solid foods at this time can be too much for them to handle. Starting a baby on solid foods too soon, before four to six months, can also cause overfeeding, since they cannot yet offer you signals as to when they are full. There is also the danger that a baby won't be able to chew or swallow correctly before this age.
At four to six months, breast milk or formula is the only food that your baby needs, but you can still begin to familiarize your baby with the feel of a spoon and begin to introduce solid foods. Iron-fortified rice cereal is the least allergenic type of solid food and is recommended as the first that should be introduced. You can mix I tablespoon of rice cereal with breast milk, formula, or water and feed it to the baby with a spoon (not a bottle). Offer cereal two to three times per day.
After cereal has passed the test and the baby is about five to six months old, you can move on to pureed fruit and vegetables. Continue to give breast milk or formula and iron-fortified cereal each day. Offer 1 to 2 tablespoons of strained vegetables or fruit two to three times per day. Offer one new food every three to four days, and watch for signs of intolerance.
By age six to eight months, a baby's digestive tract is more mature, and you can begin to introduce more types of foods. While continuing to give breast milk or formula, increase iron-fortified cereal to 4 tablespoons or more daily. Increase strained vegetables to 2 tablespoons or more per day, and increase strained fruits to 2 tablespoons or more per day. You can now start to offer plain strained meats such as chicken, beef, turkey, veal, lamb, or egg yolks (no egg whites, as there is a high chance of allergic reactions in infants younger than twelve months old). Offer ½ to 1 tablespoon one to two times daily. You can also begin to offer 2 to 4 ounces of 100 percent fruit juices. Start by mixing one part juice with two parts water, and offer it in a cup.
ALERT! If using commercially prepared baby food, do not use vegetables with meat because it contains little meat and less protein and iron than jars with plain meat. If your baby doesn't like plain meat, mix it with a vegetable that they already like as you offer it.
At this age you can also start to offer soft table foods and finger foods. Begin with soft, bite-size pieces of food, such as unsweetened dry cereals, crackers, and soft breads. Never give these types of foods to children unless you are with them, in case of choking.
At eight to nine months, continue with the breast milk or formula and iron-fortified cereal. Begin trying junior foods (half jar) or mashed and chopped table foods such as meat, poultry, potato, or well-cooked pieces of vegetable. Chopped canned fruit can replace strained fruit (be sure fruit is canned in light syrup or its own juices). Begin to also offer one to two small servings of bread, crackers, solid cereals, toast, or zwieback. Offer small servings of cottage cheese, plain yogurt, and soft cheeses. At this point you can increase the amount of food your baby is eating according to the baby's appetite.
From ten to twelve months, continue with breast milk or formula and iron-fortified cereals (4 tablespoons or more per day). At this point you can add cooked, cut-up pieces of vegetables, soft fruits, and tender meats. Casseroles with pasta or rice can be introduced. Again, increase the amount of food according to the baby's appetite. It is important to offer a variety of foods to encourage good eating habits later.
After the First Year
After twelve months of age, you can give your baby homogenized whole cow's milk. Do not use 2 percent, low-fat, or skim milk until your child is two or three years old.
If using soy milk after your child is a year old, keep in mind that it is low in fat. A toddler soy formula may be a better alternative, or you can make up for the reduced fat intake from milk in other areas of your child's diet.
Keep in mind that your baby's appetite may decrease and become pickier over the next few years, as his or her growth rate slows.
ALERT! Avoid putting your baby down for a nap or to sleep with a bottle of formula or juice, which allows sugar to collect in the baby's mouth and can lead to cavities. Also, do not give carbonated or caffeinated drinks, candy, or other foods that your baby may choke on, such as grapes, hot dogs, or thick and sticky foods like peanut butter.