Introducing your infant to complementary foods is an important milestone. While breast milk or infant formula is the main source of nutrition for your child for the first six months, at six months of age infants can begin to explore different tastes, textures, and types of food.
What are signs that my child is ready to start solids?
Most infants will show signs that they are ready for solid food at 4–6 months of age. At this age infants lose the extrusion reflex (automatically pushing objects out with the tongue), which will allow them to accept food into their mouths.
Other signs of readiness include good head control, sitting without support, putting their hands to their mouths, showing interest in your food by reaching for it, and turning their heads to the side when they are finished eating.
At what age should I start introducing solids?
Most full-term infants are developmentally ready to eat solids at 4–6 months of age. Current guidelines recommend breastfeeding exclusively until your baby is 6 months old, and then introducing solids at that time.
Starting solid foods at 6 months of age is important to ensure your child’s oral-motor development. Solid foods also will provide the nutrients your child needs for growth and development, such as iron and zinc, especially if your child is exclusively breastfed.
An age of 6 months is important because introducing solids earlier than 6 months has been associated with childhood obesity. Introducing solids later than 6 months may increase a child’s risk for food allergies.
How often and how much solids should I offer?
Start by offering solid foods once a day. 1–2After four weeks of offering solid foods once a day, gradually increase how often you offer your baby solid foods.
Most babies will be eating solid food three times a day by 8–9 months of age. By one year of age, babies should eat three meals plus one or two healthy snacks per day. This is a general guideline, however, so it is important to remember that your infant may develop at their own pace.
What foods should I offer my child first?
Start with fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, or legumes. Although there is no specific order to start foods, there are a few guidelines to follow:
- One new food at a time: Introduce one new food at a time. Introduce that food for 3–5 days before introducing another new food. Spreading new foods out like this will give you time to identify if any food causes an allergic reaction. It may be helpful to give your infant new food in the morning, either before or about an hour after a feeding, when they are more alert and eager to eat and can be more easily monitored for an allergic reaction.
- Balance constipating foods with laxative foods: As bowel movements may change or become firmer with the introduction of solids, it is helpful to introduce laxative foods early. Laxative foods include prunes, pears, peaches, plums, papayas, and apricots. Constipating foods include rice cereal, potatoes, bananas, and applesauce. There is no need to avoid these foods, but monitor how these foods affect your child, since each child will respond differently.
- Foods containing iron and zinc: Iron and zinc are essential nutrients for all healthy full-term infants. Full-term infants are usually born with enough iron, but it becomes depleted at around 4–6 months of age. Since breastmilk is low in iron, iron-fortified infant cereals or pureed meats are especially important for breastfed infants. Breastmilk also does not provide all the zinc required for infants older than 6 months of age, so additional zinc should be provided through complementary food (such as meat and fortified infant cereal). Infants on formula get these nutrients from the formula, as iron and zinc are supplemented in infant formula.
When should I introduce high-allergy foods?
Start with low-allergy foods first. However, recent research indicates that introducing high-allergy foods when your child is young reduces the risk of developing a food allergy. High-allergy foods include milk, soy, wheat, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish.
If your infant is not at high risk for developing food allergies, start adding higher-allergy foods by 6–12 months of age.
Children at higher risk for food allergies include children with a sibling or parent with food allergies, children with persistent moderate to severe eczema, or children with allergies to other foods already introduced. If your child is at higher risk for food allergies, discuss with your pediatrician when it is safe to start feeding your child solid foods. An evaluation by an allergist also may be helpful. Learn more about introducing peanuts into your child's diet.
Are there any foods I should avoid?
Some foods should not be introduced to infants:
- Honey has a risk of botulism and should not be given to children younger than one year of age.
- Unpasteurized dairy or juices, home-canned foods, or undercooked fish, poultry, meat, or eggs could potentially be contaminated with bacteria and should not be fed to infants.
- Babies younger than one year of age should not drink whole milk.
Author: Anthony Porto
Editor: Athos Bousvaros