The gradual addition of solid foods to your baby’s diet is an exciting transition for your baby and you. Eating solids is just one of the many steps your baby will take toward greater independence. Between 4 and 6 months of age, babies start to observe and mimic their parents’ or other caregivers’ eating habits—a sign that they’re getting ready to advance to complementary foods.
What experts say about when to introduce solids
Babies should be breastfed exclusively for about the first 6 months of life, according to trusted health authorities like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). During that time, breast milk (or infant formula) provides all the calories and nutrients your baby needs.
Around 6 months, you can start introducing solids. Some babies may be ready for solid foods a bit sooner (4-6 months) and others a bit later (6-8 months). As with all milestones (sitting, eating solids, crawling, etc.), parents are always urged to watch their baby, not the calendar.
Once your baby starts solids, the AAP recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least the first year of life, and beyond, as mutually desired by mother and baby. If your baby is drinking infant formula, she should continue doing so until about 12 months of age. (Consult your child's health care provider before transitioning to cow's milk, and remember, children under the age of 1 should not be given fruit juice.)
Why the timing of solid foods matters
Introducing solids too early or too late can make a difference. Introducing solids before 4 months of age can increase the risk of choking and cause your infant to drink less than the needed amount of breast milk.
But introducing solids too late can increase the risk of your child developing allergies. One study found that late introduction of solid foods (after 7 months of age) may actually increase the risk of food allergies, suggesting a window of opportunity when it comes to starting solids. (A 2007 AAP report notes that breastfeeding is the best protection against allergic disease.)
Why 6 months of age is ideal for beginning solids
Human milk provides all the nutrients (including iron) that babies need for about the first 6 months of life. Once the iron stored in your baby's liver during pregnancy is used up (at about 6 months of age), iron-rich foods such as meats or iron-fortified cereals need to be added to your baby’s diet. Around 6 months is also when most babies show signs that they are developmentally ready solid foods, so be sure to watch for the following:
- Your baby shows an interest in food others are eating.
- Your baby sits up with little or no support.
- Your baby holds her head up.
- Your baby picks up soft foods.
- Your baby puts those foods in her mouth.
- Your baby keeps her tongue in the bottom of her mouth and accepts a spoon.
- Your baby keeps food in her mouth and swallows rather than pushing it out with her tongue.
- Your baby indicates fullness by turning her head away or refusing to open her mouth.
If your baby makes no effort to pick up foods and feed herself or reacts negatively to a spoon touching her lips, she’s likely telling you she’s not yet ready for solid foods. Consider trying a different food. If she still refuses, wait a few days and try again.
For more on introducing solids, including which foods to offer first, read this.