Infant Articles

Starting Solid Foods:

A Common-Sense Approach

By Dr. William Sears


A young infant's menu of breast milk or infant formula during the first few months of life is a basic and healthy one. The American Academy of Pediatric's Committee on Nutrition advises that supplemental foods not be introduced before four to six months. Offering solid foods any earlier will not make a baby sleep through the night or give up nightly fussing, and it may cause an allergic reaction or digestive upsets. The most logical time to begin introducing solid foods is when your baby shows he is ready for them - generally between 4 and 6 months. 


How Will I Know My Baby is Ready?

There is no hard and fast rule. Knowing the stages of your baby's development will help you to decide when he is ready for solids and select foods that are right for each stage.


The best way to start is by watching him:

  • Does he seem to notice when you're eating?
  • Does he open his mouth when food is offered to him?
  • Can he steady himself or sit alone in an upright position?
  • Can he lean back or turn away when he's had enough?
  • Does he reach out, grasp, and then bring his hands up to his mouth?


If you've noticed that he has started doing these things, then other unnoticeable signs of readiness are also happening:

  • He can swallow better and his tongue can move food from the front to the back of his mouth.
  • His digestive ability is becoming more flexible and less prone to disruption.


What Kinds of Solid Foods are Best?

The introduction of solid foods is meant to supplement breast milk or formula, not replace it. As the portions of solids gradually increase, the amount of breast milk or formula will decrease as your doctor recommends. That principle aside, the composition of your baby's first solid foods will change step-by-step over several months.


After four to six months of age, it is important to provide Iron-rich foods, such as Iron-fortified infant formula and cereals. A diet that is also rich in Vitamin C will help to absorb the Iron.The quality of the foods your offer your infant is very important. Avoid foods containing additives, preservatives, salts, sugar and fillers. Learn to read labels and keep your choices as pure and simple as possible. 


Getting Started

At about the same time you are considering adding solids to your baby's diet, he will be preparing for a major burst of development in several areas. Between four and six months your baby will show a marked increase in the awareness of his surroundings. He may pull away from the breast and seem disinterested in feedings. Try to be patient and understand that your baby is experiencing sights, sounds and textures in a new way.


Your baby will want to squish the food through his fingers and "paint" with it on his bib or tray. Expect mealtimes to be messy! The first few feedings will challenge your dexterity as you referee competition between spoon, fist and gurgling sounds which usually culminate with the food going everywhere but in his mouth.


With this new perception of sight and sounds, your baby will develop an awareness of strangers and may experience some anxiety along with it. Normally familiar people who participate in feedings, such as Grandma or a daycare provider, may seem frightening during this phase.The milestone of feeding solid foods is an exciting one. It heralds an important marker in the first year of development. To help your baby's mealtimes go smoothly, try to be flexible with your routine and be prepared to change along with your baby's development. 


Helpful Hints

A good first food is brown rice cereal mixed with breast milk or formula. Adopt a healthy concern for safety. Babies can choke easily. As baby's activity level increases, watch for everyday household items that he may put in his mouth. Your baby's appetite may vary from day to day, so try to be flexible with his rhythms.


This article was reprinted with permission from Earth's Best Family Times. Copyright 1995 by Dr. William Sears and Earth's Best Family Times. All rights reserved. This article may be printed out for personal use but may not be reproduced in any other manner, including electronic, without prior written consent from either the author or publisher.