One of the most exciting milestones for new moms is starting babies on solids! But it is as exciting as it’s challenging, and a whole new mix of patience and mess.
When Ollie was ready to start eating solids, I was impressed by how many questions I had and basically the amount of food that exists!
It sounds silly, but we are just so used to preparing our own meals and eating them that we don’t stop to think about how the whole process starts and how to scale up the solid food we give to our babies.
In this post, you’ll find a quick and practical guide to kickstart you and your baby on introducing solids during the first year.
How to Know Your Baby is Ready to Start Eating Solid Food
Before starting your baby on solids, you need to make sure she’s ready.
Your baby’s digestive system is developing quickly, but introducing solids too early and too fast can be potentially dangerous due to choking hazards and the risks solid food poses to an immature digestive system.
Initially, your baby will just be tasting small ounces of solids, getting her digestive system ready for a fully solid diet eventually.
And even when you’ve made sure your baby is ready to start eating solids, you need to monitor her reaction to food closely and report it to your Pediatrician.
But first things first, kickstart your journey of introduction to solids by understanding when your baby is ready for them.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing solids between 4 to 6 months.
Signs that your baby is ready to start eating solids
Your baby will be ready when she:
- Has good head control. She needs to be able to hold her head up for long periods of time.
- Can sit upright in a highchair.
- Closes her mouth around a spoon.
- No longer has the tongue-thrust reflex.
- Shows interest in your food. Your baby will want to try what you’re having and maybe even get fussy because you won’t give her your food.
- Starts making chewing motions.
- Seems hungry, even after a full feed.
Common Myths About Starting Baby On Solids
There’s a lot of information out there about baby nutrition.
So much, in fact, that it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and lose your sanity.
It was particularly difficult for us, on top of having a new baby fresh out of the NICU, learning to be a mom and wife again, we were also trying to make sense of what the Internet was saying and dealing with a lot of unsolicited advice.
It drove us crazy, so straight off the bat, let’s talk about some signs that are commonly mistaken as a baby ready for solids.
- Your baby doubling her birth weight or reaching 14 lbs.
- If your baby starts teething.
- Your baby is gaining weight at a slower rate.
- You see that your baby is chewing her fists more often.
- Your baby seems to need an occasional extra feed (formula or breastmilk)
Just to be extra clear, none of the signs above mean that babies are ready to start eating solid food.
They just happen between 4 and 6 months of age, which is casually the time that babies do start showing some read signs of readiness. So most people confuse them.
Always remember that your baby’s feeding process will relate to her digestive system and neck and face muscles.
A baby is ready for solids when her body is ready to process solid food. And none of the signs above relate to this.
A Word on Starting Solids on Premature Babies
Premature babies have a more immature digestive system than full-term babies at the same chronological age.
If you’re a preemie mom (as I am), you need to follow the process of starting solids very close with your doctors.
You’ll probably also need to seek advice from a baby nutritionist.
In general, for healthy preemies, you should start solids according to their adjusted age.
So for this guide, every time I mention age, for preemies it means adjusted age.
Want to know your preemie’s adjusted age? Check out this post.
Baby Feeding Mistakes You Need to Avoid to Keep Your Baby Safe and Feed Her Like a Pro
I know, longest headline title in the history of headline titles. But I really do want you to feel like a pro because you deserve it.
Avoid the following mistakes when you’re starting to feed your baby with solid food:
- Introducing Solids too Early
Make sure that your baby is showing signs of being ready to start a solid diet and ask your pediatrician to double-check.
- Breastfeeding or Giving Baby Snacks Too Close to Meals
Your baby’s tummy is the size of her fist, so when setting up a feeding schedule for her make sure that she has enough space between feeds to grow hungry.
- Pushing Vegetables too Much
I get it, we all want our kids to eat healthy food. I had this perfect idea before becoming a mom of my son eating all the veggies and refusing sugar.
But when introducing solids to your baby, do try to add vegetables to the mix, but make sure there is a mix! And if your baby refuses specific vegetables (or all of them, like in Ollie’s case), think of other ways to prepare them and offer them other foods.
Don’t let vegetable refusal get in the way of your process of introducing solids to your baby.
- Giving Babies a Bite of Adult Food or a Sip of Grown-Up Drinks
Your baby will seem to want a bite of whatever you’re having, and unless that’s in the age approved list, avoid giving it to her.
Even if it’s a tiny bit.
Remember that your baby’s taste buds and digestive system are still maturing, so they need the right food to do it.
Food You Should Completely Avoid During Your Baby’s First Year
Honey contains a bacteria called Clostridium Botulinum which releases spores that are harmless to mature intestinal tracks.
The digestive systems of babies under one year of age, however, aren’t strong enough to fight off these spores, which puts babies at the risk of getting Botulism, a serious disease that can cause weakness in the muscles, constipation, poor sucking, and even paralysis or pneumonia.
Don’t worry, once your baby is older she’ll be able to eat honey like a champ!
Breast milk or formula will still provide the highest nutritional value for your baby’s first year, which is not true for cow’s milk.
The proteins in the cow’s milk are more difficult to digest and could make the baby’s kidneys work harder.
Raw or Lightly Cooked Eggs
Avoid eggs that aren’t fully cooked, due to the risk of getting food poisoning from salmonella.
Also, stay away from mouses, homemade ice creams, or homemade mayonnaise, or any food that contains raw or unpasteurized eggs.
Salt And Salty Food
Your baby’s kidneys aren’t ready for salt yet, so don’t add any salt to her meals, and don’t offer her sausages, chips, bacon, or any store-bought food with salt in it.
Babies will love the sweet taste for sure, but it’s more healthy for them to get it out of fruits.
When you’re introducing your baby to solids you’re not only preparing her digestive system, you’re also building her taste buds, and eating sugar might make the rest of the food you give her feel tasteless.
Introduce your baby to shellfish after she’s tried boneless fish, and it’s usually recommended to do so after your baby’s first birthday.
Giving your baby shellfish is a decision you should make with your pediatrician.
Where we live, shellfish is very common and I accidentally gade Oliver crab when he was around 10 months old- I thought it was fish, and only found out after he ate it all.
Our pediatrician had recommended against any shellfish, but after that first test, she was okay with it.
Still, I would have avoided it if I knew it was crab and not chicken.
Unpasteurized or Soft Cheese
Due to the risk of these carrying a bacteria called listeria, you should avoid all cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, as well as soft cheeses such as brie, Roquefort blue cheese, camembert, or goat’s milk cheese.
Your baby’s liquid diet should consist mostly of formula or breast milk. Additionally, fruit juices are sugary drinks that don’t have the same vitamins as the fruit themselves and lack fiber.
Smoked And Cured Meat
Most smoked and cured meats are overly salty due to their high content in sodium and nitrate. So it’s best to stay away from them until your baby’s kidneys are more mature.
Just as you did when you were pregnant, avoiding high mercury fish is a good thing to do for your baby’s nutrition.
Last but not least, babies shouldn’t eat small foods such as grapes of big pieces of meat, soft foods such as marshmallows also pose a choking hazard because they can lodge on a baby’s throat.
A Word on Allergens
The AAP recommends introducing allergenic foods early in your baby’s diet (so, within the first year) to help prevent allergies.
This is contrary to what we used to do not so long ago when we avoided allergenic food before age 5, but it has proven to be a successful method of reducing food allergies.
With our premature baby, we did introduce allergic food early with the help of our pediatrician and were happy to find out that Ollie had successfully overcome a dairy allergy.
When introducing your baby to potentially allergic foods, do so slowly and consult your pediatrician, such foods include egg whites, peanuts, citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, seafood, and wheat.
Feeding Your Baby Through The Months
Starting Your Baby on Solids – From 4 to 6 Months
If your baby seems ready for solids, consult your pediatrician on what and how to feed her.
If your pediatrician gives you the green light, your baby’s diet will still consist of breastmilk, at this point you’ll be just testing your baby’s reactions to food.
When Ollie was 4 months old adjusted, our pediatrician told us to start giving him solids because he was showing signs of readiness.
Mostly she wanted us to test our baby’s digestive system and overall reaction to solid food.
Keep your solids to 1 teaspoon per day.
The introduction to solids is progressive and we should always start small.
Foods to give your baby from 4 to 6 months:
Here’s a list of the foods you can give your baby in this early stage:
- Bananas (pureed).
- Avocado (pureed).
- Pureed apples or pears (they need to be cooked and peeled)
- Pureed squash or sweet potatoes (they need to be cooked and peeled)
- Baby rice or oat cereal (you can mix it with formula)
Foods to Give Your Baby From 6 to 8 Months
Your baby’s diet will be mostly liquid, but you can start letting her explore by sucking on fruits and vegetables (make sure it’s safe).
During this phase, here’s the list of foods you can give your baby:
- Baby rice or oat cereal.
- Fruits and Vegetables (mostly pureed): Apples, Bananas, Pears, Avocado, Peaches, Mango, Sweet Potato, Carrot, Squash, Green Beans, and Pumpkin.
- Chicken or Turkey.
Foods to Give Your Baby From 6 to 8 Months
The fun is starting now as your baby has grown more accustomed to food, is more keed to explore on her own (baby-led weaning), and she can start more solid food.
The list of foods you can give her has grown quite a bit by this point, you can get more creative!
Here’s the list of food you can give your baby:
- Grains and Seeds: Flax, Kamut, Millet, Oats, Pasta, Quinoa, Rice, or Sesame
- Fruits and Vegetables: Avocado, Apples, Bananas, Apricots, Cantaloupe, Kiwi, Mango, Papaya, Peach, Pears, Mango, squash, asparagus, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrot, Eggplant, Green Beans, Mushroom, Onion, Sweet Potato, Potato, Zucchini.
- Protein: Beef, Chicken, Eggs, Fish (low mercury, boneless fish), Pork, or Turkey
- Yogurt, Cottage Cheese, Hard, pasteurize Cheese (such as Colby, Jack, Mild Cheddar cheese)
Frequently Asked Questions
When can babies start drinking water?
Wait for your baby’s first birthday to give him as much water and she’d like to drink, but you can start giving her small sips here and there once she’s 6 months old.
Your baby’s liquid diet should consist mostly of breast milk or/and formula until she’s 12 months old.
My baby doesn’t seem to like some foods. What can I do?
It can take several tries for your baby to adjust to new foods.
Be very patient and don’t despair, your baby is just getting used to a new food. Don’t push her too hard and patiently try the food again during another feed.
The fact that your baby may not be used to a new food yet doesn’t necessarily mean she doesn’t like it.
My baby seems to want to eat all by herself. Should I let her?
Absolutely, baby-led weaning is encouraged!
You need to make it safe by making sure your baby is in a chair appropriate where she can sit upright, and never leave her unattended in case of allergies or choking.
And welcome the mess!
That’s a Wrap
As everything with babies, the key to successfully feeding your baby is patience and understanding.
If you see that your baby wants to stop a meal, let her stop it, even if you feel that she’s not full yet.
Remember that your baby is just getting used to food and will get most of her nutrients from breast milk or formula.
Always keep a close conversation with your pediatrician and a cool head around your baby