Introducing solids: Signs of readiness
Research shows it is beneficial to start introducing solid foods when your baby is around six months, regardless of whether you choose to breastfeed or formula feed (or a combination).
Check out our Infant Nutrition: Starting Solids Chart!
The six month mark is a sweet spot for continuing to provide essential nutrition and hydration from breastmilk, formula or both, while introducing additional nutrients for your growing baby. At this age, babies’ intestines are finally mostly developed, so they are ready to digest solid foods well. Starting too early may increase the risk of GI or respiratory infection. You may be eager to jump into the eating stage, but feeding your baby solids before she is ready can turn an otherwise fun milestone into a frustrating activity for both you and your child. It’s important to wait until your baby shows the appropriate cues and abilities. So as your baby nears six months, what should you look for to determine whether she’s ready to start eating? Here are readiness cues to watch for:
- Your baby should have good head control and be able to sit up with very little support in their own high chair.
- If she’s interested in food, she’ll open her mouth and lean forward when food is offered. She may make chewing motions and bring her hands to her mouth, or even reach for your food. *Note that even 4 month olds may exhibit this behavior, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that their intestines are ready to take on solids!
- While feeding, watch to see that she can close her lips over the spoon, keep food in her mouth (ok, at least some of the food), and swallow. Babies may just push food out of their mouth at first until they learn how to chew and move food back along the tongue to swallow.
If she’s not ready, wait a few days or a week and try again. Some babies take to solids right away, advancing textures and quantities quickly, while others take more time. Either path is fine! Remember, eating solids at this age is mostly about letting your baby explore new flavors and textures and less about getting in calories. We like to say, “Under one, just for fun” when it comes to solids as breastmilk or formula will remain your child’s primary source of nutrition for her first year of life. So continue to nurse and/or give formula just as you were before starting solids. Don’t forget to have fun with feeding and let your baby set the pace!
What to do
Introduce solid foods when your baby is around six months of age. The latest research endorses waiting until six months, as does the American Academy of Pediatrics. If your pediatrician suggests starting earlier, make sure to find out if it’s for a medical reason and inquire about the most up to date recommendations. Around six months, start to take note of your baby’s readiness for solid foods. Observe your baby’s behavior. If she has good head control, can sit up with minimal support, and reaches for food when you’re eating, she’s likely ready to start trying solids. This should be around 6 months of age. Provide a supportive seat or highchair so your baby can comfortably eat in a safe, upright position. Educate yourself about first foods for baby that are safe and nutritious. Develop your baby’s healthy habits now to raise a healthy eater! Additionally, introduce foods that are of a texture your little one can handle and then progress as she seems ready.
The Ellyn Satter Institute, Ellyn Satter
Starting Solid Foods, HealthyChildren.org
What and when babies first eat may affect diabetes risk, Science News
Moss, B. G., & Yeaton, W. H. (2014). Early childhood healthy and obese weight status: potentially protective benefits of breastfeeding and delaying solid foods. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 18(5), 1224-1232.
Quigley, M. A., Kelly, Y. J., & Sacker, A. (2009). Infant feeding, solid foods and hospitalization in the first 8 months after birth. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 94(2), 148-150.
Laursen, M. F., Andersen, L. B., Michaelsen, K. F., Mølgaard, C., Trolle, E., Bahl, M. I., & Licht, T. R. (2016). Infant Gut Microbiota Development Is Driven by Transition to Family Foods Independent of Maternal Obesity. MSphere, 1(1), e00069-15.