Health organizations recommend introducing solid foods into a baby’s diet around 6 months of age. The term “solids” includes mashed or pureed solid foods, such as baby food.
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However, it is important for people to know that many prepared baby foods available in stores contain multiple ingredients. For starters, it’s best to choose single-ingredient purees with no salt or additives.
This allows parents and caregivers to introduce one new food at a time, to monitor whether a baby has any allergies or intolerances. People may wish to purchase single-ingredient baby foods or prepare them at home using a blender.
This article explains when babies can eat baby food, how to introduce solid foods, and whether to introduce foods in a certain order. We also explore ways to address common issues with introducing new foods.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a baby does not need any additional nutrition or energy from solid foods, including baby food, until about 6 months of age. Indeed, until this age, babies rely on their own iron stores rather than their diet.
However, after 6 months, iron stores begin to decline. Since breast milk and formula do not contain enough iron to meet a baby’s nutritional needs, he should also start eating solid foods.
Before a baby can start solid foods, he must be able to:
- sit up straight with support
- hold the head in a stable and upright position
- show interest in food and open mouth to receive it
- swallowing food instead of spitting it out, using the tongue to move it to the back of the mouth
The AAP advises that the baby should also be twice their birth weight or weigh at least 13 pounds, or 5.9 kilograms.
Different babies reach these milestones at different ages. If a child hasn’t started doing these things or hasn’t gained as much weight, it’s worth consulting a pediatrician before introducing solids.
While many organizations recommend starting solid foods at 6 months, there remains debate as to whether it is acceptable to introduce them earlier. According to a 2021 review,
In previous studies, the most common reasons for doing so were:
- the baby is always hungry
- the baby seems interested in solid foods
- solid foods that help the baby sleep longer
Some babies may grow faster than others and are therefore ready to start solid foods sooner.
The authors of the 2021 review also describe a “sensitive period” between 4 and 9 months when a baby is most open to receiving new textures and tastes. Some studies suggest that introducing foods before 6 months can:
- increase willingness to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables later
- reduce the risk of having feeding problems
- reduce the risk of developing food allergies
However, more research is needed to determine if this is true.
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) advises caregivers to feed babies single-ingredient baby foods from 4 to 6 months and to introduce common allergens before 6 months. The organization also claims that delaying allergenic foods past 6 months may increase a baby’s risk of developing an allergy.
However, there are potential risks to introducing foods before 6 months. If they’re not ready for solids, they may be at an increased risk of choking. Additionally, their digestive system may not yet be able to cope with food, which can lead to gas, bloating, or diarrhea.
Ultimately, caregivers need to observe the baby’s reaction to food and not force a transition to solid foods if they don’t seem ready.
To introduce baby food, it’s best to offer single-ingredient purees, trying them one at a time. Caregivers can either buy single-ingredient baby food from stores or mash or puree an ingredient they have at home.
- Wash hands before preparing food. Then mix or mash the ingredient to a smooth texture, making sure there are no lumps.
- Cook food thoroughly and let cool until lukewarm.
- Wash the baby’s hands and sit down with a baby bowl and spoon. A person may also want to use a bib.
- Try guiding half a spoonful of food into the baby’s mouth. Tell them about the process, encourage them to open their mouths and taste it. If the food seems too thick, try basting it a bit.
- Stay with the baby at all times while he is eating to watch for signs of choking or an allergic reaction.
- Finish the meal with breast milk or formula and wash the bowls, utensils and spoon in hot soapy water when you’re done.
If the baby refuses to eat the food, cries or continues to turn away, do not force him to eat. Instead, resume feeding exclusively with milk or formula and try again later.
If they get along well with food, caregivers should continue to offer it to the baby at mealtimes, in addition to milk or formula. Wait
Some caregivers choose to skip purees and baby food altogether and go straight to allowing the baby to feed with snacks. People call this baby-directed weaning or baby self-feeding.
Caregivers taking this approach should make sure their baby can grasp the food in their hands and bring it to the mouth before trying the bites. Make sure all foods are easy to hold and soft enough for a baby to crush with their gums.
The AAP advises giving 4 ounces, or 113 grams, of solid foods per meal, which is roughly equivalent to one jar of baby food.
There is no specific order for the introduction of solid foods. However, it is important that the first foods are soft and easy to crush. The AAAAI recommends starting with the foods least likely to cause allergic reactions before moving on to more common allergens.
Here are some good candidates for a baby’s first foods:
Blend or mash these foods for a smooth texture and do not add salt or seasoning. Caregivers should avoid all foods that need to be chewed, such as:
- uncooked fruits or vegetables, except bananas
- pieces of cheese or meat
- hard or chewy candies
The AAP also states that babies do not need fruit juices and recommends avoiding giving them until at least 12 months of age due to their sugar content.
Once a baby tolerates their first foods, there is no need to delay the introduction of more common allergens, such as eggs, dairy, tree nuts or shellfish. It can even increase a baby’s risk of developing an allergy.
An exception is if a baby has severe eczema or a known egg allergy. Caregivers should consult a doctor before testing for allergens such as peanuts if this is the case.
Here are some ideas of foods to introduce at this stage:
- plain yogurt
- scrambled eggs
- smooth peanut butter
- fork flaked fish
After a few months of solid foods, the baby’s diet should include a variety of breast milk or formula, fruits, vegetables, proteins and grains.
Learn more about how to make baby food at home here.
Babies need time to adjust to solid foods. If they spit something out or refuse to eat it, it may be because they don’t know how to eat it yet. Trying again later may help.
Alternatively, the baby may feel full. Signs that a baby has eaten enough include:
- push away their food or spoon
- turn your head away
- close your mouth when someone offers food
Babies may also dislike a food at first because it’s a new flavor or texture. In this case, perseverance is required, especially with bitter vegetables, such as broccoli or spinach. According to 1,000 days, it may take 10 to 20 attempts for a baby to like and accept a new food flavor or texture.
If a baby is happy to eat certain foods but not others, a caregiver can try:
- mixing the new food with something they like, such as breast milk
- continue to offer less popular foods at meals until they show interest
- wait a week before trying the new food again
If a baby refuses many or all foods, especially after eating solid foods with little difficulty, they may have another problem, such as:
In some cases, it’s a good idea for caregivers to consult a pediatrician before starting solids. This is especially true if a baby is premature or has special needs.
Severe eczema or early allergy symptoms can also change the way someone introduces baby food. A doctor can advise you on the best approach.
If a baby suddenly begins to refuse to eat, it may signal a medical condition. Caregivers should consult a medical professional about this for a diagnosis. They may also have tips for overcoming the problem while the baby is recovering, such as providing chilled foods to ease teething pain.
Before introducing solid foods, most health organizations recommend waiting until baby is 6 months old. A baby may be interested in baby food sooner than this, but he needs to be able to sit up straight, hold his head steady, and swallow foods that are thicker than milk.
Although prepared baby foods are convenient, it’s best to start with single-ingredient purees that don’t contain any additional ingredients. This helps to discover possible food allergies or intolerances. Caregivers should choose soft, smooth foods and stay with the baby while he eats.