When Can Babies Start Solid Foods?
From a growth and nutrition standpoint, it is not essential to begin solid foods until 6 months old.
Introducing solids before 4 months of age has been shown to increase the likelihood for obesity and allergies later on in life.
More and more studies are showing that introducing solids between 4 and 6 months old is best for lowering the risk of food allergies.
What Solid Food(s) Should We Give First?
The traditional first food is iron-fortified cereal such as rice cereal. Rice cereal offers a chance for children to learn to eat from a spoon and is a good first food because you are in control of the thickness. You may mix approximately 1-4 tablespoons of cereal with breast milk or formula.
You, by no means, have to start with rice cereal. A pureed fruit or vegetable is also fine. In fact, adding cereal to a diet of iron-fortified formula may cause constipation.
Always remember to allow at least 3 days between introducing each new food. This will allow you to more easily identify the cause if an allergic or other reaction occurs.
The only food you cannot give to infant’s is honey, which should be absolutely restricted until after the 1st birthday due to risk of botulism.
If your child has an older sibling with a peanut allergy, the younger child should be tested for peanut allergy prior to introducing peanut butter.
How Often Should My Child Have Solids?
4-6 Month Olds:
- Should get nearly all their nutrients and calories from breastmilk or formula.
- Solids should be once daily and mainly for developmental purposes, to learn how to eat off a spoon.
6-9 Month Olds:
- Majority of nutrients and calories should still come from breastmilk or formula.
- Slowly increase frequency of solids to 2-3 meals per day, as desired by your infant.
- Continue to introduce new fruits and vegetables in pureed form.
- As your baby approaches 8 or 9 months, you may want to introduce meats to their diet.
- As your baby approaches 9 months, watch for development of a “pincer grasp,” as this is a good time to begin finger-feeding.
9-12 Month Olds:
- Infants transition from a breastmilk/formula-based diet to having solids 3-times/day, with a balance of fruits, veggies, and proteins such as meats, fish, and/or eggs.
- Infants progress from pureed foods to finger-feeding soft, chopped table foods.
- Again, honey is the only food that absolutely needs to be avoided until the 1st birthday.
- Foods at highest risk of being choking hazards are round and/or skinned foods (e.g. hot dogs, grapes, etc.) These should always be cut into very small pieces and the skin may need to be removed.
- You may want to offer a sippy cup of water with meals for practice.
12 Month Olds and Beyond:
- Should be eating regular table foods almost exclusively.
- Should have 3 meals per day and 1-2 snacks.
- At 12 months, children should switch from formula to whole milk.
- Those children who are still breastfeeding may also be supplemented with whole milk.
- In general milk should be thought of as part of a well-rounded diet, and children will drink less milk than the amount of breast milk or formula that they had consumed prior to 1 year.
- Because calcium (found in milk) and iron (found in meats and green leafy vegetables) are absorbed by the intestines by the same mechanism, too much calcium (i.e. more than 24 oz of milk/day) can block adequate iron absorption and lead to anemia (low blood count).
- Juices should be limited as much as possible, and are not a necessary part of the diet.