En Español According to recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Public Health Association (APHA), human milk is the only food that healthy, full-term babies need for about the first six months of life. The composition of human milk changes in response to a variety of cues, so that each nursing parent provides milk that meets their own baby’s unique needs. Human milk provides immunity factors for as long as the baby nurses, and many of the health benefits of breastfeeding continue well into toddlerhood and beyond.
Feeding complementary foods (“solids”) to your baby before they are ready is typically messy and inefficient as they will naturally push the food out with their tongue as long as the tongue-thrust reflex is functioning. By waiting for them to be developmentally ready, they become an active participant in eating, rather than merely passive recipients. This helps to put them in charge of how much they eat, teaching them important fullness cues. Starting solid foods before your baby is ready will not increase their sleep at night, is not necessary for larger babies, and does not initially increase calories.
SOME SIGNS OF READINESS:
- Baby is about six months old
- Baby is able to sit, unsupported
- Baby has lost their tongue-thrust reflex, meaning that they do not push foods out of their mouth with their tongue when they are offered
- Baby can pick things up between fingers and thumb (also called a pincer grasp).
HOW TO START SOLIDS:
- Nurse your baby before offering other foods. Your milk remains the single most important food in your baby’s diet until their first birthday. Also, they are more likely to show interest in new foods if they are not ravenously hungry. At this age, solid foods are more for experimentation, play and fun. Remember to offer to nurse again after the solid “meal”.
- Some babies like to sit in a high chair while others prefer to sit in somebody’s lap. Babies are messy, so you may want to put an old shower curtain under his chair for easier cleanup.
- Offer food when the baby is in the mood to learn. This could be during a quiet time, or it could be at a social time when the rest of the family is also eating.
- Offer small amounts of food. Your baby is learning to eat and enjoy new textures, rather than having a full meal. You can gradually increase the amount of food and the frequency of feeding to satisfy your baby’s hunger and interest.
- If your baby does not seem to like a new food, offer it again at another time. It may take a few times before they learn to enjoy a new flavor.
- Many babies prefer finger foods to spoons. First foods are for fun and experimentation. Neatness doesn’t count! As with your milk, allow baby to control the amount he eats, and stop when he is done. Offering “finger foods” allows your baby to do this.
- Never leave a baby or young child alone with food in case they begin to choke. Never give your baby small, hard foods like peanuts or popcorn. Foods that are circular in shape such as carrots or grapes should be sliced and then halved or quartered.
- Use only single ingredients and wait about a week between introducing each new food. Then, if something upsets your baby, you will know exactly what it was. Some signs of a possible allergic reaction include a rash, runny nose, or sore bottom. If you see any of these signs, wait a week and try the food again. If you get the same reaction, hold off until your baby is a year old and try again.
- If there is a family history of food allergy, consult your doctor or allergist for advice on when to start your baby on foods that tend to be more allergenic as it may differ from recommendations for babies without allergic history. These foods include citrus fruits (including oranges, lemons, and grapefruit) kiwi, strawberries, peanuts and peanut butter, eggs, soy products (including soy milk and tofu), and cow’s milk (including cheeses, yogurt, and ice cream).
FIRST FOODS FOR BABIES
Fruits, Vegetables, Beans and Legumes
Most babies love fruits. Make sure they are ripe, and wash well before peeling. Fresh vegetables should be washed, peeled and cooked until tender. Frozen veggies are convenient to have on hand. Avoid the canned varieties to which salt has been added. Here are some favorites:
- Bananas cut into slices which have then been halved or quartered
- Unsweetened applesauce, or tiny apple chunks that have been softened by cooking
- Plums, peaches, pears, and apricots, gently cooked if necessary
- Avocado diced into small, bite size pieces
- Chunks of baked or boiled sweet potatoes or white potatoes
- Baby carrots, green beans, peas and squash
- Unsalted canned beans
Meat and Fish
Babies often prefer well-cooked chicken, which is soft and easy to eat when shredded. Be careful to remove even the tiny bones when serving fish.
Grains and Cereals
Commercial, iron-fortified cereals are often the first foods served to babies who are not breastfeeding because they need the extra iron, but breastfed babies are rarely anemic as the iron in human milk is well-utilized. If there is concern about the baby’s iron levels, a simple test can be done in the doctor’s office.
Whole grain cereals, breads and crackers are the most nutritious. Wait until later in the first year before offering wheat products. If you use cereals, make sure that they only have one ingredient and use either water or your own milk for mixing. Many families prefer to let their older babies chew on a hard bagel or a slice of bread instead of sugary teething cookies.
Note: Babies under a year should not be given honey or corn syrup as they carry the risk of botulism.
INTRODUCING WATER TO OLDER BABIES
- During the first 6 months of age, even in hot climates, human milk contains all the water babies need. Remember that a baby may wish to nurse more frequently to quench their thirst when out in hot weather.
- Once a baby is 6 months old you can offer water in moderation. Try giving a small amount of water in an ordinary or spouted cup.
- Because human milk contains a high percentage of water many older babies or toddlers get all the fluids they need through breastfeeding. Some babies and toddlers may need to drink water with solid food to avoid constipation.
Is Baby Ready for Solids? (PDF), LLL USA
Cereal in a Bottle: Solid Food Shortcuts to Avoid, American Academy of Pediatrics
Guidelines for Offering Water to Babies, KellyMom
Infant and Young Child Feeding, World Health Organization
Peanut Allergy, LLLI
“Help! My baby has no interest in solids!”, LLL USA Facebook
“Help! My baby has a dairy allergy!”, LLL USA Facebook
How much solid food does my baby need?, LLL USA Facebook
Eating Wisely; Incorporating Vegetables, LLL USA blog
Middle of the First Year, LLL Canada blog
Do I need to wean my picky toddler?, LLL USA Facebook
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Please contact a local LLL Leader with your specific questions.
Medical questions and legal questions should be directed to appropriate health care and legal professionals.
Page updated January 2020
Resource partially adapted from LLLI materials.