Babies are deeply intuitive. They’re so in tune with us that their hearts can synchronize to ours when we walk in the room, and studies show they possess an innate understanding physics and can tell how much we want things based on the effort we put into getting them.
It’s not so surprising, then, that they’re are also pretty intelligent about knowing when it’s time to start solids . . . and all we have to do is pick up their cues.
In this post we’ll dive into developmental signs of readiness to look for, plus tips for getting started. First, though, I want to mention that although I’ve co-authored this article with nutritionist Hillary Bennetts, it is purely for educational purposes and not medical advice. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive in.
What are some signs of readiness?
When possible, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.” (1)
Of course, six months is just a guideline, and each little one develops at his or her own pace. In terms of developmental cues, baby might be ready for you to start introducing solid foods when he or she:
- Can sit upright well without support
- Has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (doesn’t automatically push solids out of the mouth with the tongue)
- Has good head control (not bobbing or nodding)
- Is willing and able to chew (even if he or she does not yet have teeth)
- Is developing a pincer grasp (picks up food or other objects between thumb and forefinger)
- Is interested in food and is eager to participate in mealtime (may intently watch others eat, lean into food, or try to grab food off of your plate)
5 Tips for Introducing Baby Food
When your little one starts to show an interest in starting solids, here are some tips to help set you both up for success:
1. Create A Comfortable Environment
Let your baby experience different mealtime arrangements. Some like to sit in their own high chair while others may be more comfortable starting out in someone’s lap.
No matter where your little one ends up, remember that things can get messy. So keep your sense of humor handy and prepare for things to get messy at times. An old shower curtain under the table can make cleanup a little easier.
2. Take It slow
Introduce one food at a time and watch for signs of a possible food sensitivity or allergic reaction such as a rash, runny nose, diarrhea, or diaper rash. Most pediatricians recommend waiting 3-5 days between new foods in order to be able to pinpoint the cause.
3. Watch for choking hazards
If not pureed, start with foods that are mashed or large enough to hold. Test the texture yourself to be sure it can be easily mashed in the mouth, and offer foods that are at least as long as your pinky finger. Cut small round foods in half, or break them up a bit yourself first.
4. Skip the honey until baby’s first birthday
Pediatricians recommend waiting until baby is a year old before introducing honey due to risk of botulism. (Don’t let this scare you out of eating honey yourself, our bodies are equipped to handle these bacteria after we turn a year old.)
5. Keep it fun and interesting
Remember that when starting out, solids are really just for fun. Think of them as a complimentary food to breast milk or formula, which are baby’s primary source of nutrition for the first year. Just offer a variety of foods to allow baby to experience different tastes, textures, and smells.
So, which first foods are best, and how should I feed them?
Now that you have a better sense of when, you’re probably wondering which first foods are best and how to introduce them. Should it be pureed sweet potato or baby cereal… or maybe soft finger foods, pureed meat and mashed avocado? And what’s the deal with common allergenic foods like peanut – some experts say to avoid them, while others say they should be introduced early to reduce the risk of developing food allergies.
There’s a lot to talk about, and we’ll be covering it all in the next post!
1. American Academy of Pediatrics (2012) Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk