Eating is a social activity around the world. How early babies start solids, what solids they eat, and how they eat it (spoon or self-fed) is also a culturally driven process, even when it feels like a private one. That’s because, in every culture, starting solids is considered a significant event — it’s your baby’s first step of independence.
The transition period of moving from 100% breastmilk (or formula) to 100% solid food is called weaning.
In the beginning of weaning, babies drink the same amount of milk, and simply add more and more solids on top. Eventually, they start decreasing their milk intake until it fully stops. For most families, the weaning process happens over 6 or more months once a baby starts eating solids.
Signs Your Baby is Ready for Solids
The good news is babies follow key developmental milestones with some predictability. Your baby can start eating solid foods when:
- She’s at least 4 months old. Don’t add any solids before 4 months. Studies have shown starting too early can lead to obesity, and other health problems later in life.
- She has good neck control -- she can hold her head steady when sitting.
- She can sit up, with assistance.
- She is showing interest in other people’s food. This could be leaning in to try to get other’s food or grabbing towards food on the table.
Complementary feeding is also called starting solids. The idea is that food complements the baby’s breastmilk or formula diet, it doesn’t replace the milk. Another way to say it is “until 1, food is for fun!” Here are a few things to remember:
- Solids does NOT mean you stop breastfeeding. Most children need calories from food by 6 months old, but they get their nutrition from breast milk. Babies should have 20-30oz of milk through their first birthday. Feed solids after milk, not before.
- Solids will not hurt. If you try solids and your baby isn’t interested, simply wait a couple weeks.
- Solids do not have to be complicated. You can purchase baby food, blend baby food, chew up baby food, etc. You can spoon feed them or let them self feed.
What Food Should I Give My Baby First?
As long as food is prepared safely for a baby’s developmental stage, any food is fair game. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins like tofu, beans, meat or fish, can all be fed to even the youngest baby (as long as they are cooked thoroughly) and mashed, ground, or pureed to the right texture.
Focus on healthy foods, with no sugar. And try to get in as much variety of fruits, vegetables, high fiber grains, meats, and dairy as possible. Babies need to be fed all foods multiple times before they get used to flavors and textures.
The key is to give your baby variety.
What Can’t I Feed My Baby?
There are only three no-no’s for the first year:
- Honey. Honey is not pasteurized and can contain harmful bacteria.
- Sugary foods. No junk food, sweets, or added sugar, ever. Sugar creates picky eaters and is super harmful for healthy gut bacteria.
- Tough foods or hard foods. Babies can choke on surprisingly small things. No whole nuts, hard carrots, or pieces of cereal unless they are softened, pureed or finely ground.
Do I Have to Start with Purees?
Younger babies need soft, well cooked food. But you don’t always need a blender. Most steamed fruits and vegetables can be mashed with a fork.
One great trick is to use frozen fruits and vegetables which soften when cooked and mash with almost no effort.
Can I Start With Baby-led Weaning?
A baby who is happy to wait until 6 months old for solids may start with baby-led weaning.
Baby-led weaning refers to taking soft fruits and vegetables, or deboned and well-cooked proteins, and giving them to your baby in fist sized pieces. Babies pick up these pieces and gnaw on them with their gums. They eat very little, but get good exposure to tastes and textures.
Baby-led weaning encourages babies to discover their boundaries, and gagging will happen. But if the food they are eating is developmentally safe, they should be able to spit it back up.
Good foods for baby-led weaning include cooked pasta, wheat toast, avocados, bananas, ripe pears, steamed cauliflower, or baked potatoes. Because each of these foods is still cooked, you can sprinkle them with our powdered Peanuts, Hard Boiled Egg, or Tree Nuts.
Another alternative is to chew baby’s food for them and feed them, like a bird.
Take a medium sized bite of pretty much anything. Chew the bite of food well. The rule of thumb is 20-26 chews per bite. Instead of swallowing the food, push a small bit out onto your finger or onto a baby spoon and feed your baby.
Masticating food is great because your baby gets to eat exactly what you eat. There is no additional preparation work, and you will know if food is too hot or too cold. Even better, with each bite, you pass on helpful bacteria to help your baby digest the food and build their microbiome. Re-chewed food is what humans have done for most of history because it is cheap, easy, and creates no mess.
Don’t Over-Complicate It!
Starting solids is fun! Babies can’t wait to join the rest of the family at the table. Whether your start with purees or baby-led weaning, always remember:
- Don’t start until your baby is ready
- Feed your baby as many flavors and food groups as possible
- Let your baby decide when they are full
If you keep these things in mind, starting solids with your baby should be a fun and messy experience!