When should I introduce solid food to my baby?
You can introduce solids any time between 4 and 6 months if your baby is ready. Until then, breast milk or formula provides all the calories and nourishment your baby needs and can handle. His digestive system simply isn't ready for solids until he nears his half-birthday.
How will I know when my baby's ready?Your baby will give you clear signs when he's ready to move beyond liquid-only nourishment. Cues to look for include:
• Head control. Your baby needs to be able to keep his head in a steady, upright position.
• Losing the "extrusion reflex." To keep solid food in his mouth and then swallow it, your baby needs to stop using his tongue to push food out of his mouth.
• Sitting well when supported. Even if he's not quite ready for a highchair, your baby needs to be able to sit upright to swallow well.
• Chewing motions. Your baby's mouth and tongue develop in sync with his digestive system. To start solids, he should be able to move food to the back of his mouth and swallow. As he learns to swallow efficiently, you may notice less drooling. He may also be teething around the same time.
• Significant weight gain. Most babies are ready to eat solids when they've doubled their birth weight (or weigh about 15 pounds) and are at least 4 months old.
• Growing appetite. He seems hungry — even with eight to ten feedings of breast milk or formula a day.
• Curiosity about what you're eating. Your baby may begin eyeing your bowl of rice or reaching for a forkful of fettuccine as it travels from your plate to your mouth.
How should I introduce solid food?
A good rule of thumb is to start with rice cereal, which is gluten-free and less allergenic than other foods. First, nurse or bottle-feed your baby. Then give him one or two teaspoons of dry cereal mixed with enough formula or breast milk to make a semi-liquid. Use a rubber-tipped spoon when you feed your baby, to avoid injuring his gums. Start with just a small amount of cereal on the tip of the spoon.
If your baby doesn't seem very interested in eating off the spoon, let him smell and taste the cereal or wait until he warms up to the idea of eating something solid. Don't add solid food to your baby's bottle or he may not make the connection that food is to be eaten sitting up and from a spoon.
Begin with a once-a-day feeding, whenever it's convenient for you and your baby, but not at a time when your baby seems tired or cranky. Your baby may not eat much in the beginning, but give him time to get used to the experience. Some babies need practice keeping food in their mouths and swallowing.
Once he gets used to his new diet, he'll be ready for a few tablespoons of cereal a day. As the amount he eats increases, gradually thicken the consistency of the cereal and add another feeding.