There are a lot of reasons you might be tempted to start solids early with infants. You may worry that your baby isn't getting enough from breast milk or formula. You may have heard that it helps babies sleep better.
But it may be better to hold off solids.
Although many grandmothers and neighbors may swear that a little cereal in their newborn's bottle helped him sleep better, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend introducing cereal and other solid foods until four to six months of age. Before that age, young infants need only breast milk or formula.
In the first couple of months of life, a newborn generally feeds every 2 hours. If you're breastfeeding, offer up to 10-15 minutes on each breast; for formula feeding, offer about 2-3 ounces at each feeding.
As your newborn gets older, she'll tend to eat more at each feeding. If your infant produces six wet diapers a day and is gaining weight regularly, that means she's getting enough food calories. Discuss your infant's feeding and growth with her pediatrician at each check-up.
When and How to Start Solids
Once your infant is between four and six months of age, she may start showing signs of readiness for solid foods. Those signs include the ability to support her head, good tongue thrust (can push food out of her mouth), and showing interest in the foods you're eating.
When you feel your baby is ready and your pediatrician gives the go-head, you can then start feeding her single-grain cereals like rice cereal by mixing the cereal flakes with his breast milk or formula. The familiar taste will help him accept the new food and rice cereal tends to be less allergy-provoking than some other foods.
Infants are just beginning new tastes and textures, so don't be surprised if she initially rejects your attempts. Try again in a few minutes. Once she gets used to the rice cereal, increase the quantity slowly.
Which Foods to Introduce to Baby First
After she gets used to rice cereal, you can then introduce oat or barley cereal followed by vegetables, fruit, and then finally meat. Introduce new foods one at a time in order. Always wait a few days before introducing another new food. By doing so, you can watch for any diarrhea, bloating, rashes, or other signs of an allergic reaction to a food.
Soon enough you'll be cleaning up pureed peas and carrots and all types of baby food from the kitchen floor. In the meantime, enjoy breastfeeding or formula from a bottle until he is ready for solid foods.
The Best First Foods by Age
- 4-6 months: Depending on your baby's readiness, this is the ideal age range to introduce finger foods or purees to your little one. Infant cereal is one of the best options when starting solid foods. You can also give pureed vegetables such as sweet potatoes or peas, but be sure to start with single ingredients. Start slow and offer one new food every few days.
- 6-8 months: Many pediatricians recommend that you introduce certain foods like peanut butter or eggs to check for food allergies. Offer small bites or small pieces to start. Your baby's diet should still consist primarily of breastmilk or formula because it will provide the necessary nutrients that your baby needs.
- 8-10 months: This is the perfect age to start your baby on things like yogurt and meat. Small pieces of meat or pureed meats both work great. It is also perfectly safe to give your baby raw vegetables as well if you are trying baby-led weaning.
- 10-12 months: Your baby will try all sorts of new foods in his first year. This is a great age for allowing him to attempt to try spoon-feeding himself. Continue to offer new fruits and vegetables as well as a variety of meats.
Foods to Avoid Giving an Infant
- Honey: Giving honey to babies under age 1 can cause infant botulism. Her digestive system can't handle the natural bacteria that honey has. It's better for older babies who are over 1 year old.
- Hotdogs: Even when cut into small pieces, hotdogs are choking hazards. It is best to skip giving these to babies at mealtime.
- Fruit juice: Juices and other sugary foods or drinks are not a good choice for your baby. It can cause tooth decay, especially when put into a baby's bottle. Instead, stick to infant formula, breastmilk, or water in a sippy cup.
- Cow's milk: Hold off on introducing cow's milk in your baby's first year. Sticking with breastmilk or formula is better for her at this age.
Looking for more tips on feeding your growing baby? Check out Tips on Beginning Solid Foods
Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.