MS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS
Rachel holds a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University and is also a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. She works as a nutrition and wellness coach with focuses on infant and maternal nutrition, and mindful eating.
With so many opinions and recommendations, it can be difficult to decide how to start introducing solids to your baby. This article will review different feeding strategies, along with their potential benefits and disadvantages, so that you can choose the one that works best for you and your infant. As you begin this journey, be sure to chat with your baby’s pediatrician.
The first decision concerns timing: when should you begin feeding your baby? Research points to six months as the ideal time for introduction of solids because your little one’s intestines are mostly developed. Other important signs of readiness for food include ensuring your baby can sit up with minimal support, keep her head up and steady, and show interest in the foods you’re eating. (For more information on when to start solids, please see Introducing Solids: Signs of Readiness)
Introduction of food
is complementary to breastmilk and/or formula feeding, which should remain the
primary source of nutrients and calories up through the first year. Think
of eating as a way for your baby to explore food, tastes, and textures; rather
than a way for them to get most of their nutrients. This will allow you and your baby to set
aside frustration and have more fun with the process.
There are different methods that parents may choose when it
comes to baby’s first bites. Below
reviews the traditional as well as alternative approaches to feeding, including
their pros and cons.
This technique has been around longest and is the one
recommended by most pediatricians. It
begins with spoon-feeding purees, graduating to lumpy mixtures, soft solids,
and soft table foods; progressively advancing textures as the baby matures and
While many pediatricians still recommend fortified single grains mixed with breastmilk or formula as the first food, followed by pureed vegetables and fruit, there is no medical evidence indicating that solids should be introduced in any specific order. This includes the theory that vegetables should be introduced before fruit. Babies have a natural preference for sweet tastes regardless of which foods come first. Rather than worry about the order of produce introduced, the primary goal is to introduce many flavors to set your infant up for successful eating both now and in the future.
The traditional method also suggests adding one new food
every 2 to 3 days to check for intolerance or possible allergic reactions,
although this recommendation is becoming less frequently used by professional
organizations such as the AAP. After each new food, watch for symptoms such as
diarrhea, rash, or vomiting. If these occur, consult with your infant’s health
care provider to discuss the next steps. Vegetables and proteins are high in
nutrients per serving, so having them as a consistent part of your baby’s diet
alongside fruits and grains, will ensure a variety of quality nutrients are
Another older recommendation is to wait until between 7 to 8 months to introduce proteins such as chicken, turkey, fish, beef, and dairy foods (excluding cow’s milk, which should be introduced at 1 year). Research indicates this may not be necessary, and in fact introducing meat early, particularly to breastfed babies, will help them meet their increasing iron and zinc needs. Simply ensure the proteins are a texture your baby is able to tolerate. This might mean introducing ground beef, pureed chicken, or mashed fish initially until he is able to chew (or ‘gum’) advancing textures. (See: What’s the Deal with Seafood for more information on which fish are high in mercury and should be avoided for infants).
Though some health care providers counsel to hold off on offering fish, eggs, and other potential allergens until your infant is one year or older, new research indicates earlier introduction may actually help prevent allergies. (To learn more, please see: Introducing Major Allergens)
When your baby is able to bring her hands to her mouth,
typically between 8 and 10 months, finger foods may be introduced. During this time she is developing her
ability to ‘gum’ foods, as well as developing pincer and fine motor skills
needed for self-feeding. Very soft foods
cut into small pieces are still needed as baby does not have enough teeth to
break up hard foods.
This progressive technique discourages spoon feeding and
supports infants to self-feed from the beginning. The theory behind this method is that infants
should be in control of what and how much they eat. Proponents also say BLW
helps to better develop infants’ chewing skills and hand-eye coordination. Because infants have more control of their
ability to grasp and swallow at 6 months, BLW is recommended to start around
this age and not sooner.
Per Baby Led Weaning, first foods should be soft enough to ‘smush’ between the fingers and cut into a ‘strip’ for the baby to grasp. Advocates for this technique advise adults to never put food in the baby’s mouth. This allows the infant to be in control of the entire feeding experience. Example first foods include: Banana, avocado, mango; steamed sweet potato, carrots, broccoli, asparagus; steamed apple and pear; well-cooked fish and scrambled eggs; over-cooked pasta, etc. Foods that are choking hazards should be avoided, as with any feeding method. (See: Preventing Choking for more information).
Some proponents also promote feeding baby what the family is
eating (“table food”); however, these foods may be too high in salt and
sugar. Feeding family foods may be
acceptable so long as a separate dish is prepared without these added
Potential advantages: Greater acceptance of foods, weight
management, promotion of oral motor and chewing skills. It should be noted that
some of these benefits are contested.
Potential disadvantages include: Not meeting infant’s
increasing iron needs, not meeting calorie needs, too much added sodium or
sugar, risk of choking.
For more information on the potential benefits and disadvantages of Baby Led Weaning, please read Introducing Solids: Baby Led Weaning.
This method is similar to the traditional method in that you
may choose to start with pureed foods and advance textures as appropriate; but
it differs in that a much wider variety of foods are offered from the
start. This includes: fruits,
vegetables, eggs, fish, chicken, meat, combination foods, mixed grains, beans,
dairy (still not cow’s milk to drink though), etc. Another difference is that this method does
not require waiting 2 to 3 days to introduce a new food, but rather new foods
are introduced anytime and in any combination – not just one at a time. As long as the food is a consistency that
your baby can handle, the food is within the realm of possibility.
As with any feeding strategy, avoiding foods with added salt
and sugar is key to your infant’s health as well as the foundation to building
healthy taste preferences. Should you
decide to follow this more relaxed strategy, it may be important to keep a food
log of what your infant eats so that if symptoms of a possible food intolerance
or allergy pop up, you can see what items it may be linked to.
Baby feeding is exciting, yet can also be riddled with
questions of how to proceed and progress. Speak with your infant’s pediatrician
to gather more information and ensure they support the method you choose. This
will allow for better care of your infant as you introduce solids.
If you’re unsure of how to start, begin with what you are
most comfortable with and progress as you see best and safest for you and your
baby. If you begin using one method and
it doesn’t feel right, there is no harm in switching to another. But most of all, enjoy the journey!
No matter which feeding style you choose, make sure that the
first foods you introduce are very soft. Infants do not have teeth so what you offer
must be soft enough for your baby to mash with their tongue or gums. Examples:
Avoid adding salt or sugar to your infant’s food. Advance
textures when your baby is ready.
Read Introducing Solids: First Foods and Advancing Textures for information on introducing solids to your infant.
2. Finger Foods
When your baby is ready to feed herself, or if you choose
the Baby Led Weaning method, here are some finger foods to try. Place four to five pieces of food on your
infant’s tray to start, adding more as she feeds herself (or attempts to!).
Soft Finger foods:
Once your baby becomes better at ‘gumming’ foods well before
swallowing, slightly firmer foods may be tried in addition to the above foods.
3. Foods to avoid
Some foods pose choking risks for infants and toddlers due
to their shape or hard texture. Here are
some foods that should be avoided:
To learn more, please read our article on Preventing Choking
4. Go with the method that feels right to you
Know that there are no studies showing any one feeding
method as superior to another, so go with the one that is right for you and
your family. Whether you choose the
traditional, Baby Led Weaning, or the ‘anything’ approach, how your baby reacts
to it – and how comfortable you are – is the best indicator that it is working…
or not! Taking into account the benefits
and disadvantages of each will help you feed your baby what they need both for
health and exploration. For additional
support, speak with your pediatrician about your decision. And remember that you can switch techniques
at any point!
5. Meet your baby’s iron needs
Iron needs increase after 6 months of age, so including
foods with iron is an important part of feeding. Note that iron from vegetables and beans is
better absorbed when eaten with vitamin C.
Pair these foods with some citrus fruit to accomplish this.
Food high in iron:
For other nutrients that your baby needs between the ages of 6 and 12 months, read this article: Nutritional Requirements for 6-12 Month Olds.
6 months: Exploration
7 to 8 months:
Exploration and Flavor immersion
* If there
aren’t any food allergies in baby’s/your immediate family, then your little one
is likely low risk for an allergy. The current recommendation is to
introduce all foods (including peanut butter, eggs, fish, soy, and other
allergens) when your baby is developmentally ready for that texture, as early
as 6 months.
8 to 10 months:
Flavor immersion and Finger Foods
10 to 12 months:
Finger foods and Family meals
12 + months: Regular
eating and Bottle weaning
“Starting Solid Foods” American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Switching-To-Solid-Foods.aspx Accessed on 30 July 2018
“Guiding Principles for Complementary Feeding of the Breastfed Child” Pan American Health Organizations, Division of Health promotion and Protection. Washington DC 2003
http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/infantfeeding/a85622/en/ Date accessed 30 July 2018
“Complementary Feeding: Family foods for breastfed children” World Health Organization. 2000 <http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/infantfeeding/WHO_NHD_00.1/en/> Date accessed 30 July 2018
“Working Together: Breastfeeding and Solid Foods” American Academy of Pediatrics. <https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Working-Together-Breastfeeding-and-Solid-Foods.aspx > Date Accessed 31 July 2018
“How to Implement the New Peanut Allergy Guidelines” American Academy of Pediatrics. <http://www.aappublications.org/news/2017/05/09/Peanut050917 > Date accessed 31 July 2018
“A Baby-Led Approach to Solids and Risk of Choking” American Academy of Pediatrics. <http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/09/15/peds.2016-0772> Date accessed 31 July 2018
“Diaper Rash” American Academy of Pediatrics. <https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/diapers-clothing/Pages/Diaper-Rash.aspx> Date accessed 31 July 2018
Starting solid foods is an exciting...