New parents are often excited to introduce solid foods to their babies, but it's wise to be patient.

At what age should a parent introduce solid foods?

Many babies signal their interest in solid foods by staring longingly at their parents’ dinner plates. But pediatricians recommend waiting to introduce solid foods until somewhere between 4 and 6 months, to allow baby's body and digestive system time to mature and to reduce the likelihood of food allergies. “If you have a preemie, wait until at least four months after your baby's expected due date,” adds Keith-Thomas Ayoob, Ed.D., R.D., associate professor in the department of pediatrics at New York's Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

In general, pediatricians say there’s no benefit to introducing solids before 6 months. But your baby may be ready for solid foods a little earlier than that if he’s drinking eight or nine bottles or nursing frequently throughout the day and still acting hungry, says Dr. Meyer. (Before introducing solid foods to baby, always make sure he can hold his neck up on his own.)

Which baby foods are recommended?

Pediatricians recommend beginning with rice cereal, since it’s one of the easiest foods for babies to digest and is fortified with iron, which your baby will need by 6 months, says Ayoob. The consistency at first should be fairly soupy, to help your little one get used to this new way of eating. Expect your baby to be a little uncomfortable with the taste and texture, says Ayoob. Practice will help. After a week or so, if your pediatrician okays it, you can move on to other infant cereals, such as mixed grains and oatmeal.

The next step is to introduce pureed fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, pears, applesauce, squash, peas, carrots and sweet potatoes. “Many people think you should start with a vegetable because if you start with a sweet food, your child is going to develop a sweet tooth,” says Martha Snyder, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine and mom of two young girls. “I tell moms their children are going to have sweet tooths no matter what they do.”

Most importantly, separate each new food you introduce by at least three or four days. This allows enough time to see whether the food sparked any allergies or other problems. “As a mom, I think it makes sense to give a new food first thing in the morning so you have the whole day to watch to see if the child has a reaction to it,” says Dr. Snyder. “There are also certain foods that shouldn’t be given to babies under the age of 1, including honey, egg whites and shellfish.

When is it appropriate to introduce cow’s milk and chicken?

At around 9 months you can begin to offer protein sources, such as ground chicken and well-cooked beans. Hold off on cow’s milk as a beverage until one year of age, however. Cow's milk has very little iron and the iron it does contain is poorly absorbed, according to the AAP. If cow's milk replaces some breast milk or formula for babies under age 1, they can miss out on getting enough of this key nutrient. “Too much cow’s milk can lead to chronic anemia, because the milk inhibits iron absorption,” explains Dr. Snyder.

When can baby feed herself finger foods?

Most moms breathe a huge sigh of relief when their babies can start picking up and eating food on their own—with supervision, of course. This usually happens at 7 to 9 months, after youngsters can sit up unassisted.

The key rule about finger foods: Make sure everything you put on that high-chair tray is soft and can easily be mashed or will dissolve in your baby’s mouth. This means mushy foods such as blueberries, bananas, soft peaches or chunks of ripe avocado are a better bet than pieces of apple, even if the apple is very soft. And give your child a chance to become comfortable with the unfamiliar textures. “Your baby will gag in the beginning, and this is totally normal,” says Dr. Snyder. “She’s just getting used to moving the food around her mouth.”

I’ve heard that a lot of popular snacks are choking hazards. Is that true?

Colorful red grapes and other round, firm food items—such as hot dogs—may seem like perfect finger food for babies, but they're common choking hazards for children under the age of four unless you cut them up into very small pieces, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, OH. Pediatricians recommend holding off on all of the following foods until age four:

  • Chewing gum
  • Grapes
  • Hard, gooey or sticky candy
  • Hot dogs
  • Marshmallows
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Popcorn
  • Raw vegetables, such as carrots

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 17 Sep 2010

Last Modified: 06 Nov 2014