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When Can My Baby Start Eating Solid Foods?

A friend of mine just started giving her 3-month-old applesauce and rice cereal. My son is just 2 weeks younger than hers, and I am wondering if I should be introducing solids soon, too. When should I start?
- Taylor

The best time to introduce solid foods is when your baby has developed the skills needed to eat. If you are breastfeeding, doctors recommend waiting until your son is 6 months old. But he might be ready for solids sooner than that.

How will you know? To eat, babies need good head and neck control and should be able to sit up in a high chair, which usually doesn't happen until they're 4 to 6 months old. Also, if you try to feed your son solids before this age, you may notice that he pushes food out of his mouth just as quickly as you put it in. Babies start to lose this natural tongue-thrusting reflex at the 4- to 6-month mark, which makes it easier for them to start eating solid foods.

Other signs that babies are ready to eat solids foods:

  • they're interested in foods (for example, they may watch others eat, reach for food, and open their mouths when food approaches)
  • they have the oral motor skills needed to move food to the throat and swallow it
  • they usually weigh twice their birth weight, or close to it

Wait until your baby is at least 4 months old and shows these readiness signs before introducing solids. Babies who start solid foods before 4 months are at a higher risk of becoming obese.

When the time is right, start with a single-grain, iron-fortified cereal for babies (rice cereal has traditionally been the first food for babies, but you can start with any you prefer). Start with one or two tablespoons of cereal mixed with breast milk or formula to achieve the right consistency. Feed your baby with a small baby spoon. Never add cereal to a baby's bottle unless your doctor instructs you to do so. As an alternative, you could give an iron-rich pureed meat.

At this stage, solids should be fed after a nursing or formula-feeding session, not before. That way, your baby fills up on breast milk or formula, which should still be your baby's main source of nutrients until age 1.

Once your baby has gets the hang of eating cereal, introduce a variety of pureed fruits, vegetables, and meats. Wait a few days between introducing a new food to make sure your baby doesn't have an allergic reaction. It may take several tries before your son starts to enjoy a new food, so don't give up after the first or second attempt if he doesn't seem to like it.

Fruit juices are not recommended for babies. There is no benefit to offering juice, even to older babies. Juice can fill them up (leaving little room for more nutritious foods), promote obesity, cause diarrhea, and even put a baby at an increased risk for cavities when teeth start coming in.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2015