Top 10 Facts About When To Start Solid Foods

Many parents wonder when to start solid foods. Here are 10 indicators that your baby is ready for their first foods:
  1. It is best to start solid foods between 4-6 months of age. Many pediatricians have personal reasons for starting at 4 months or 6 months, but anywhere in that range is fine.
    • Solid introduction before 4 months of age may decrease the amount of breastmilk/formula ingested to unsafe levels causing dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
    • Before 4 months, babies have a natural “tongue-thrust” reflex that forces food out of their mouths. This is a protective reflex!
    • Lack of motor skills/coordination can lead to aspiration (inhalation of solid food matter into the lungs…this is a bad thing!
    • Before 4 months of age, your baby’s stomach lacks the necessary levels of hydrochloric acid needed to properly digest food and break down toxins like nitrates.
  2. Look for your baby’s signs that he/she is getting ready for solid foods!
    • Able to sit independently. (This is a big one. If you are really needing to prop your baby, or your baby is still solidly in a reclining baby seat, he/she isn’t ready for the solid stuff yet!)
    • Your baby has strong head and neck control.
    • Your baby is putting everything in his/her mouth. And, doing this without too much help from you. This means that he/she is ready to start trying to feed him/herself.
    • Your baby is watching everything that you eat, and is starting to try and grab your food as you put it in your mouth!
  3. Your baby has at least doubled in weight since birth.
  4. It’s important to remember that up until about a year of age, your baby still gets their his/her primary nutrition from breastmilk or formula. This means that solids, especially at the beginning, are a great bonus. This also means that you shouldn’t try to replace a liquid meal (breastmilk or formula) with a solid one!
  5. Iron stores do begin to diminish after about 6 months of age. Make sure that the solid foods you are offering contain iron. This is especially important for breastfed babies because iron does not pass from mom to baby in breastmilk. (Formula feeders should always be using a formula that is iron fortified.) Iron-rich foods are legumes, meats, dark-leafy greens, fortified cereals and grains, etc.
  6. The order at which you introduce solid foods seems to be of little or no importance, despite the MANY opinions on the subject. Traditionally, it was thought that starting with baby rice cereal was the way to go, but this has now changed, with an emphasis on vegetables or fruits. Rest assured that whatever your baby’s first food, they will most likely eat a wide range of foods later in life!
  7. Sips of water can and should be introduced around 6 months of age. Do not place water in a bottle. Use a sippy cup, or even a regular cup (you’ll need to help!). Water is a perfect drinking fluid, and will hopefully eventually become the other staple liquid in your child’s diet besides milk. Starting early with self-feeding skills (like a sippy cup) is a great idea.
  8. Remember that regardless of what grandma might tell you, starting solids will NOT help your baby sleep through the night. There is a TON of literature to support this statement! In fact, starting solids too early (before 4 months) can be dangerous and cause your baby to sleep more poorly.
  9. It’s important to make mealtimes a family event (if possible) from the beginning. Too often these days, we’re all rushing around, not stopping to share a moment or a meal, and not taking the time to teach our children this important lesson!
  10. Make mealtimes fun! Stressful mealtimes can make for bad food associations later in life. If your baby won’t eat something you’re offering relax. You can’t force-feed them, and they truly eat what they need. It’s important to trust in the body and the process. (I’m constantly amazed at what my own children will eat!)

A few words on important things to avoid when starting solid foods

  • Avoid honey until after the first birthday. This is due to the possible exposure to infantile botulism.
  • Avoid cow’s milk until after the first birthday, due to a propensity of cause iron deficiency anemia. This just means that you should avoid giving your baby a cup of cow’s (or any animal’s!) milk. This does not mean that you should avoid cheese, yogurt, or other dairy products, or milk that might be mixed into a dish or a baked good. (In fact, yogurt is one of the perfect first foods!)
  • Avoid home prepared spinach, beets, turnips, carrots, and collard greens before 4 months of age because of a risk of nitrate poisoning. Before 4 months, your baby lacks the necessary stomach acids to break down the nitrates. (This being said, we at Mara’s World strongly recommend waiting to start any solid foods before the age of 4 months!)
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