The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. They suggest introducing solids around six months of age, though breastmilk should remain the main source of baby’s nourishment until age one.
Your baby may be ready for solids when:
- He is around six months old
- He can sit without support
- He can pick up small objects with his thumb and forefinger
- He no longer pushes food out of his mouth with his tongue
- He’s reaching for foods you’re eating, or watching each forkful move from your plate to your mouth, mimicking your mouth movements the whole time
Rather than allowing your baby’s age to dictate when to start solids, you can follow his behaviors (just like you do with breastfeeding). If your baby is ready sooner than six months, you can give solids a try. If you try at 6 months and he resists, try again in another week or so. And if your baby is not quite ready at all, you can wait until seven, eight, nine months. Your breastmilk will still keep your baby healthy during this time as long as you continue to nurse on cue.
Solids should compliment, not replace, breastmilk during the second half of the first year. Think of solids as an experiment in taste and texture, but don’t expect your baby to be eating platefuls. Start with once a day (or even once every few days) offering a tablespoon or so of solids. Then over the coming months, slowly increase the frequency, variety and amount. Experts suggest that by one year old, your baby will be consuming about a quarter of her calories from solids.
Some moms choose to breastfeed before offering solids. Some breastfeed after. And some just offer solids in between their baby’s typical nursing times. This may take some trial and error to see what works best for you and your baby. As your baby gets older, offer solids at the same time you sit down to a meal.
You might choose to offer packaged single-grain baby cereal mixed with some expressed breastmilk for baby’s first feast (in fact, this is probably what your baby’s doctor might suggest). Or you might offer pureed foods that you can buy at the grocery store or that you can make at home.
But when you’re waiting until baby is ready, you may be able to offer small chunks of soft foods and just let your baby self-feed. This is often referred to as ‘baby-led weaning.’ With this method, you can place some foods in front of your baby and he can feed himself, allowing him to decide if and how much to eat. Advantages of this method include letting your child control when to stop eating (which may prevent obesity), refining his hand eye coordination, and learning to chew textured foods (rather than just swallowing purees).
Great first foods include:
- Baked sweet potato
- Well-cooked, soft meat (beef, chicken, turkey)
- Whole grain bread or cereal
When your baby is nine or ten months old, you can add yogurt and cheeses (if you don’t have any family history of dairy allergy). Wait until age one to add milk, eggs, and citrus fruits. You may want to offer new foods about a week apart so you can watch for any signs of allergy, such as a rash anywhere on baby’s body (including a diaper rash) or a runny nose. You can then wait a week and try the food again. If your baby has the same reaction, you can eliminate that food until your baby’s digestive tract and immune system has had some more time to mature.
While your baby has a very well-developed gag reflex, you never want to leave him alone when eating solids.
If your baby is still nursing on demand, there’s no need to offer any type of drink when eating solid foods. You can offer a cup of water, more as an exploration of how to use a cup, but the extra fluid isn’t necessary. Your baby will get just what he needs with nursing. The AAP recommends parents begin introducing a cup around six months so that by age one your baby is able to handle a cup on his own. Some experts advise rather than offering a “sippy cup” you instead teach your baby to drink from an open cup or a straw.
Starting solids is often a messy time. But it’s also a social time. Your baby will be learning that mealtime is about conversation and connection. Have fun with it!