Infant Feeding: Introducing Solids
Ashley Favre, MS, RD, LDN, CLC
As a Dietitian who works with families from pre-conception and beyond, I often get asked two frequent questions: “When can I introduce solids to my baby and what foods do I offer?” Families who know when and what foods to offer feel more confident in their ability to help baby establish a healthy relationship with food from the beginning.
Let's start with when-
Knowing when baby is ready to begin solids can make parents more confident in what to offer. Reputable health organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, encourage offering breast milk exclusively until about six months of age. Research supports that breast milk provides 100% of the nutrition that babies need in the first six months of life.
Why solids at six months?
Around six months of age, important developmental milestones appear that make offering foods safe for the infant. Keep in mind that not all infants develop at the same pace so some may indicate readiness later which is perfectly normal. Your baby may be ready for solids when they have achieved the following milestones:
● Sits up unassisted
● Controls head and has the ability to turn head away from food in refusal
● Absence of tongue-thrust reflex and baby does not instinctively push solids out of his mouth with his tongue
● Infant is able to participate in mealtimes by bringing food or spoon near their mouth
Many families notice changes in baby’s development that may lead them to believe baby is ready for solids even if they have not achieved the suggested signs of readiness. Common misinterpretations of infant behaviors, as well as anecdotal suggestions from friends or family or belief in outdated information of feeding practices may cause unsafe feeding interventions.
Inappropriate interventions not supported by research such as placing cereal in a bottle or offering solids to help with longer stretches of sleep would replace breast milk before the infant is developmentally ready.
Infant behavior NOT related to infant’s readiness for solids include:
● Eruption (or absence) of teeth
● Frequent night wakings
● Spit up or reflux
● Fussiness or frequent crying
What do I offer?
Two main feeding methods may set the pace for what foods families choose to offer their babies. A more traditional feeding method is parent-led and offers a combination of baby purees varying in texture as well as infant cereals. A more emerging feeding method, baby led weaning (BLW), encourages infant led and self-feeding from the start with soft whole foods.
In either approach, there are common guidelines for getting baby off to the best start.
● Take it slow: Introduce one new food at a time, waiting several days in between to monitor allergic reactions like vomiting, diarrhea, or rash/hives.
● Offer food allergens early: Offer foods containing eggs, dairy, soy, peanuts, and fish early to avoid potential development of food allergies.
● Think Zinc and Iron: Consider foods high in iron and zinc like meats, beans, or iron fortified cereals.
● Stay safe: Avoid choking hazards such as nuts and seeds, popcorn, honey, raw vegetables, and uncut grapes or hotdogs.
● Feed on Demand: Continue to offer breast milk until one year of age or beyond as mutually desired
● Encourage exploration: Expect babies to explore and experiment with their food, it is a new experience!
● Practice patience: Continue to offer foods time and again. Gently encourage babies to try new foods.
● Respect their refusal: Acknowledge that babies will let you know when they’ve had enough by turning their head away or losing interest in eating.
Choosing what to offer first is personalized to each family. Easy and frequent first choices include banana, avocado, sweet potato. For further examples of commonly offered foods see the sample menu below adapted from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
• Mashed banana, avocado or cooked beans
• Cooked or pureed carrots, peas or sweet potato
• Cooked or pureed meat or poultry
• Yogurt mixed well with peanut butter
• Ground, cooked, single-grain cereal (oatmeal) or infant cereal with breast milk
● Sliced and quartered bananas or small pieces of other soft fruits
● A variety of cooked vegetables cut into small pieces, such as squash and green beans
● Well-cooked, minced or finely chopped meat, poultry or fish
● Well cooked, scrambled or hard boiled eggs
● Strips of whole wheat toast
● Small pieces of fruit
● Small pieces of cooked vegetables
● Soft, shredded meat, poultry or fish
● Mixed food dishes the family is eating in appropriately sized pieces
Where can I read more?
Is Baby Ready for Solids? (Developmental Signs of Readiness)
Dos and Don'ts for Baby’s First Foods
Feeding Fiction: Let's Set the Record Straight
Ashley Favre is a mother, wife, Registered Dietitian, and Certified Lactation Counselor whose education supports families during pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, infancy, and childhood. Her partnership with families encourages simple and practical approaches to feeding and eating. When Ashley isn’t parenting or breastfeeding you can assume she is eating ethnic food with her husband or attempting to recover zz’s she lost during the first year of parenthood.