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How to Know When Baby is Ready for Solid Foods

Introducing Baby’s First Foods

Are you wondering if your baby is ready to start solid foods? And what the heck do you even give them? Starting solid foods is one of the biggest milestones for your baby! It’s an exciting time, but I’m sure you feel a little overwhelmed. By ages 4 to 6 months, babies can be ready to begin eating solid foods as a complement to breast-feeding. What should you look for to tell if baby is ready?

    • Being able to sit up. Baby should be able to sit up without assistance and support his own head. This will make it easy and safe for baby to eat.
    • Losing the tongue-thrust reflex. When babies are in the newborn months, they have a reflex called tongue thrust, where their tongue will force a spoon out of their mouth. This is also important so that babies can learn to move food from the front to the back of their mouth when learning to eat.
    • We want to make sure that baby is between 4-6 months old AND growth and weight are okay and he is developmentally ready to sit in a high chair and use his hands to play and experiment with the food. This also means that his tummy is ready to digest solid foods.

Some professionals recommend that breastfed babies wait until closer to 6 months to begin solid food. This is because waiting to do solid food can help ensure that they get the full health benefits of breastfeeding. The four-month check-up is a great time to discuss your baby’s readiness with a dietitian or healthcare provider.

Some challenges with starting solids too early (before age 4 months), such as:

  • Pose a risk of food being sucked into his airway (aspiration)
  • Cause him to get too many or not enough calories or nutrients
  • Increase his risk of obesity

Waiting too long after 6 months to introduce food might:

  • Slow baby’s growth
  • Cause iron deficiency in breast-fed babies
  • Delay oral motor function
  • Cause an aversion to solid foods

There are several ways to start baby’s first foods. Spoon feeding pureed baby foods is the classic way you’ve probably seen. There’s also a lot of talk recently about baby-led feeding, where you give baby soft but still slightly solid foods that he can feed himself. You’re also probably wondering which foods to start with. Some good examples include avocado, pureed chicken or beans, mashed banana, anything that is soft and easily swallowed. But, also be aware of foods to avoid that are thick and hard.

No matter which method you choose, here are some tips to safely start foods:

  • Start with one food at a time. Watch for any signs of discomfort or reaction. 
  • Make sure all foods are soft. Purees are soft, of course. But if you’re offering non-purees, make sure that you can easily smash them between your fingers. When baby is learning to chew, he will be pressing the food against the roof of his mouth with his tongue to smush it. 
  • It’s actually ok if baby gags a little bit. He’s still figuring out the chewing and swallowing thing. If it happens, baby should gag or cough just briefly. As long as baby can breathe—that includes coughing or crying—the food isn’t stuck.

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Emily Sylvester

Emily Sylvester is the Founder & CEO of Mother of Fact. As a Licensed Registered Dietitian, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and Mom of 3, she's helped thousands of families in many low/middle income communities feel confident and supported in their feeding journey. Her mission is to eliminate the deficit of equitable breastfeeding & formula feeding help for all households & healthcare systems.
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