Starting Solids: What Age? Which Food First?

  • Your milk production may be decreased if you are breastfeeding and give your baby solid foods too early.

  • Don't Wait Much Longer than 8 Months

    After six months, your baby begins to need solid foods for some nutrients, such as iron, vitamin C, protein, carbohydrates, zinc, water, and calories, and delaying food may cause delayed growth. Besides playing a nutritional role, solid foods help your baby developmentally. It is crucial that your baby start developing eating and chewing skills between the ages of 7 to 9 months. And if you delay the introduction of solid foods past 8 or 9 months, your baby may refuse textured foods when you finally do offer them to her.

    Signs of Readiness for Solid Foods

    Your pediatrician looks for certain signs of readiness in your baby before advising you to begin solid foods. Some of these signs are:

    • She is at least 4 months old (2006 and later guidelines recommend 6 months)
    • She weighs twice as much as her birth weight
    • She weighs at least 13-15 pounds
    • She can sit with support, allowing her to lean forward when she wants another spoonful and backward to refuse
    • She has control over her head and neck muscles and can turn her head to refuse food
    • She has stopped exhibiting the extrusion reflex when you put a spoon in her mouth
    • She is drinking at least 32-40 ounces of formula per 24-hours and still wants more
    • She is breast feeding at least 8-10 times per 24-hours (after the first few weeks), empties both breasts at each feeding, and still wants more
    • The time between feedings becomes shorter and shorter over a period of several days
    • She can bring an object in her hand directly to her mouth
    • She shows interest in others eating around her
    • She becomes fussy in the middle of the night, whereas before she slept through with no problem or her sleep periods are becoming shorter instead of longer.

    Baby Food Mathematics

    The signs of readiness for solid foods tend to occur around the same time in your baby's life because of a few simple mathematical facts about calories and your baby's body weight. (Math phoebes may skip the next paragraph.)

    The average baby needs about 50 calories per day per pound of body weight. Breast milk and formula provide about 20 calories per ounce. Therefore, for every pound of body weight, your baby requires about 2 ounces of milk. At 13 pounds, your baby needs about 650 calories or about 32 ounces of milk. So you see, it's no happenstance that the signs of readiness coincide.

    Which Food Should Be First?

    The first foods you should feed your baby are those that are easily digested and least likely to trigger an allergic reaction. Opinions vary, but the most often recommended first food is commercial iron-enriched baby rice cereal. Other popular first foods are avocado, sweet potato, ripe banana, and if your baby is older, millet cereal and yogurt. You and your pediatrician should decide which food should be given to your baby at her very first meal.

    Mashed ripe banana is an excellent first food for baby. As discussed on page 360, bananas are nutritious and very easy for your baby to digest. Many other cultures use banana exclusively as their first baby food. However, I have to mention that some experts caution that the sweet taste of bananas may give your baby a "sweet tooth" and cause him to refuse less sweet tasting foods later. I personally wouldn't be concerned about that. My baby started on bananas and he now happily eats brewer's yeast! If you've ever tasted brewer's yeast you know what I mean.

    WARNING: Some experts recommend against feeding a young baby bananas because of the fungicides with which they (and all other imported fruits) are sprayed. Banana skins are porous, allowing the fungicides to be absorbed into the flesh. Try to buy only certified organically-grown bananas.

    Mashed ripe avocado is also an excellent first food for baby. They are so nutritious that some claim humans can live on them exclusively. Avocados are also an excellent source of the unsaturated fatty acids that your baby needs for brain development.

    Cooked Sweet Potato