Your baby will give you clues that indicate his readiness for solid foods. These clues include the following:
- His age
- His weight
- His appetite
- The number of times you feed him
- His physical readiness
- His interest (or lack of interest) in the foods you eat
Old Enough to Eat
When should you start introducing solids into your baby's diet? Unless you have a very large baby, you should not start to feed her solids before she is at least four months old. Before that, your baby's immature digestive tract cannot yet break down and absorb complex foods. In addition, introducing solid foods too early may lessen your baby's desire to suck, which may result in your baby not getting the nutrition she needs. Finally, feeding your baby too soon may set the stage for years of mealtime melees. She may develop the habit of rejecting foods, and you may develop the habit of pushing food on her.
On the other hand, if you wait too long-until your baby is seven or eight months old, for example-your baby's total dependence on the breast or bottle for nourishment may cause her to reject new tastes and new ways to nourish herself. (If you wait still longer, she may even resist developing the skill of chewing and swallowing solids.)
The range between too soon and too late is clear: Start your baby on foods when she is between four and six months old.
What a Big Baby!
Your baby needs to consume about three fluid ounces for every pound he weighs. So by the time your baby weighs 14 pounds, he needs 42 ounces-that's six seven-ounce feedings a day! At this point, you should seriously consider supplementing your bottle- or breast-feeding with solid food.
Your baby can probably drink little more than seven ounces of formula at a single feeding. Her stomach cannot hold much more than that. If your baby is finishing her bottle at almost every feeding-and especially if she seems dissatisfied or still wants more after a feeding-then it's time to break out the baby cereal.
Please, Sir, May I Have Some More?
For many parents, the first big clue that their baby is ready for solid food comes when their infant begins regularly demanding an "extra" feeding. If your baby suddenly needs one more feeding than you're used to giving him, then he probably needs more than just breast milk or formula. If this extra feeding comes in the middle of the night-especially after your baby has gone one or two months without midnight feedings-you have plenty of motivation to begin feeding him solids.
You can test the "rejection" reflex by offering your baby a few spoonfuls of rice cereal mixed with breast milk or formula. If the cereal all comes right back out again, your baby's probably not ready for solid food. (Of course, even after your baby is physically ready, a lot of food will come right back out when you first introduce solid foods to your baby because the experience will be so new to her. But if none of the food seems to be getting past her tongue, put off trying to feed her solid food for another week or two.)
Ready or Not
You cannot begin feeding solids to your baby until she is physically ready to eat food other than breast milk or formula. Your baby must, for instance, be able to hold her head steady for quite some time while sitting upright. If her head flops over after a minute or so of sitting, hold off on feeding solids for a while longer.
Your baby may instinctively know that she's not ready. A reflex that protects a young baby from choking causes her to push out her tongue whenever something is placed in her mouth. By the time your baby is ready to begin eating solid foods, this reflex should have abated to some degree.
I'll Have What She's Having
Some babies show an interest in eating solid foods sooner than others. If your baby sees you eating and indicates that he wants to eat something like it, you won't do him any harm by giving him a taste, unless it's one of the foods to watch out for. But whatever you give your baby as his first food, you first need to turn it into an almost liquid mush by grinding it down and adding some water, breast milk, or formula.