You can introduce solids any time between 4 and 6 months if your baby is ready. Until then, breast milk or formula provides all the calories and nourishment your baby needs and can handle. His digestive system simply isn't ready for solids until he nears his half-birthday.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for at least six months – though parents will attest that some babies are eager and ready to eat solids earlier.
How will I know when my baby's ready?
Your baby will give you clear signs when he's ready to move beyond liquid-only nourishment. Cues to look for include:
Head control. Your baby needs to be able to keep his head in a steady, upright position.
Losing the "extrusion reflex." To keep solid food in his mouth and then swallow it, your baby needs to stop using his tongue to push food out of his mouth.
Sitting well when supported. Even if he's not quite ready for a highchair, your baby needs to be able to sit upright to swallow well.
Chewing motions. Your baby's mouth and tongue develop in sync with his digestive system. To start solids, he should be able to move food to the back of his mouth and swallow. As he learns to swallow efficiently, you may notice less drooling – though if your baby's teething, you might still see a lot of drool.
Significant weight gain. Most babies are ready to eat solids when they've doubled their birth weight and are at least 4 months old.
Growing appetite. He seems hungry – even with eight to ten feedings of breast milk or formula a day.
Curiosity about what you're eating. Your baby may begin eyeing your bowl of rice or reaching for a forkful of fettuccine as it travels from your plate to your mouth.
How should I introduce solid food?
For most infants, you can start with any pureed solid food. While it's traditional to start your baby on solids with a single-grain cereal, there's no medical evidence to show that introducing solid foods in a particular order will benefit your baby. Good foods to start with include pureed sweet potatoes, squash, applesauce, bananas, peaches, and pears.
First, nurse or bottle-feed your baby. Then give him one or two teaspoons of pureed solid food. If you decide to start with cereal, mix it with enough formula or breast milk to make a semi-liquid. Use a soft-tipped plastic spoon when you feed your baby, to avoid injuring his gums. Start with just a small amount of food on the tip of the spoon.
If your baby doesn't seem very interested in eating off the spoon, let him smell and taste the food or wait until he warms up to the idea of eating something solid. Don't add cereal to your baby's bottle or he may not make the connection that food is to be eaten sitting up and from a spoon.
Begin with a once-a-day feeding, whenever it's convenient for you and your baby, but not at a time when your baby seems tired or cranky. Your baby may not eat much in the beginning, but give him time to get used to the experience. Some babies need practice keeping food in their mouths and swallowing.
Once he gets used to his new diet, he'll be ready for a few tablespoons of food a day. If he's eating cereal, gradually thicken the consistency by adding less liquid. As the amount your baby eats increases, add another feeding.
How will I know when my baby's full?
Your baby's appetite will vary from one feeding to the next, so a strict accounting of the amount he's eaten isn't a reliable way to tell when he's had enough. If your baby leans back in his chair, turns his head away from food, starts playing with the spoon, or refuses to open up for the next bite, he has probably had enough. (Sometimes a baby will keep his mouth closed because he hasn't yet finished with the first mouthful, so be sure to give him time to swallow.)
Do I still need to give my baby breast milk or formula?
Yes, your baby will need breast milk or formula until he's a year old. Both provide important vitamins, iron, and protein in an easy-to-digest form. Solid food can't replace all the nutrients that breast milk or formula provides during that first year. See how much breast milk or formula babies need after starting solids.