Your baby may be ready for solid food if
- Her weight is double her birth weight or at least 13 pounds.
- She can sit comfortably on a high chair or a baby seat with her head remaining stable.
- She reaches out for your food or opens her mouth when you offer her food.
- She manages to keep in a little bit of the diluted food you are offering her (this might take several attempts since she is not used to eating).1
Without a doubt, the best first food for your baby is breast milk until she turns 6 months old. While the American Academy Of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that your baby should be fed exclusively on breast milk for the first 6 months of her life, many pediatricians recommend that you give her solid food alongside the breast milk between 4 and 6 months (but not before 4 months).
But your baby also needs to be ready to accept solid food – some babies are ready to start solid foods as early as 4 months; others will refuse all foods but milk until they are around 8 months old.2 The baby’s response mostly depends on her level of growth and development.
Breastfeed Until Your Baby Is 12 Months Old
Even if your baby has successfully transitioned to solid food around month 4, you can continue with breastfeeding until she is 12 months old, or even longer if that’s what both baby and you want. This is to ensure your baby does not miss out on nutrients and protective components that are required for normal growth. 3 4
When starting a baby on her first foods, breastfeed her just before offering solids as she is more likely to be curious about a new food if she isn’t desperately hungry. Breastfeed her again after she tries out a solid food.5
4–6 Months: Feed Pureed Rice, Banana, And Meat
Which food group should you start with? It doesn’t matter, says the American Academy Of Pediatrics (most grandmothers would say the same, too!).6 When introducing complementary foods between 4 and 6 months, try out single-ingredient, pureed or mashed foods, one at a time. A puree will allow you to dilute a food to the consistency suited for your baby’s age. With just one ingredient at a time, you’ll be able to quickly identify the cause of an upset stomach.7
Rice And Oatmeal
Traditionally, cereals like rice and oatmeal are preferred options to kickstart your baby’s solid food journey. You could start with soft-cooked rice to help your baby learn how to move food to the back of her mouth and swallow it safely. Later, you can add other cereals like oatmeal and barley.
Wheat cereals or mixed cereals should be reserved for a later stage lest they trigger off allergies. Whichever cereal you select, ensure that it’s made for babies.8
How do you do this? When shopping for cereal, ensure that it’s an iron-fortified, single-grain product with no additions like baby formula, yogurt, or milk. Again, this is to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction when you are first trying out solid food. Make a diluted preparation with expressed breastmilk or water (or formula if your baby is already having it) for the initial feedings. Once your baby has accepted this new food and learned how to eat it, gradually thicken the consistency and offer more cereal at each feeding.9.
Potato, Pumpkin, Banana, And Apple
During this phase, food still needs to have a smooth texture. After trying cereal, you can begin on vegetables and fruits. The rule about trying one food at a time still applies. Buy fresh vegetables as far as possible. Fruits should be ripe, washed well, and peeled before being stewed or eaten raw.
Here are some fruit and veggie suggestions:
- Potatoes, pumpkins, carrots: cooked and pureed or mashed
- Banana: mashed
- Apple or pear: cooked and pureed
- Avocado: scooped and mashed10
Dilute all these foods with water, breastmilk, or formula in the early stages and offer thicker consistencies as your baby gets more proficient at eating.
|Unsweetened applesauce||Apples: 2 medium size, washed
Water: 1.5 tablespoons
|Peel and core apples.
Remove seeds and chop.
Using a blender, puree the chopped fruit with just enough water to make a semi-thick sauce.
Dilute applesauce more if required.
|Pureed pears||2 firm, ripe pears, rinsed clean||In a pot of boiling water, immerse the whole pears for just under 1 minute.
Drain out the water and plunge them into ice-cold water.
Remove and peel the skin, pick out seeds, and cube the flesh.
Place cubes in a blender and puree with a little water.
Sieve the puree to strain out any remaining seeds or skin.
|Vegetable puree||Vegetable of your choice||Boil, steam, or bake your vegetable of choice in a little water until soft.
Cool and place the chopped vegetables in a blender or food processor.
Add 2–3 tbsps of the water used for cooking as it has nutrients from the vegetables.
Blend the food, adding small quantities of water until you get the desired consistency.
Meat, Fish, Or Tofu
Meat is a good, easily absorbed source of zinc and of iron, an important nutrient between the ages of 4 and 6 months when babies start losing the store of iron they are born with and must get it from breast milk and other foods.11 The American Academy of Pediatrics specifically recommends introducing iron-rich complementary foods at 6 months or earlier (say, around 4 months) if a baby was born preterm or had a low birth weight.12 Including a good source of iron and zinc is even more relevant in case a baby is on formula.13
Meat is also a valuable source of high-quality protein. Non-meat sources of protein include tofu, legumes, and beans.14 As with other foods you are introducing at this stage, meat, chicken, and fish should be well-cooked and pureed to a consistency your baby can handle.15
Ayurveda Suggests Avoiding Citrus Fruits And Dairy
Ayurvedic practitioners also recommend introducing one solid food at a time, offering each new food for a few days to allow the baby to get accustomed to it – and for the parent to observe any reactions. Start off with liquid foods, slowly building off to a thicker consistency. In the ayurvedic tradition, bananas and tart fruits like strawberries and grapefruit are not recommended in very early infancy as it is believed they increase the presence of phlegm, which leads to congestion. Cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products are discouraged for the same reason. Sweet-tasting fruit, stewed gently, is thought to be ideal for weaning babies.16
A simple ayurvedic recipe
- Strain the broth from homemade mung bean soup or the water in which rice is cooked.
- Add a drop of ghee (clarified butter) and just a grain or two of salt.
- Offer your baby a few teaspoonfuls only.
A week or fortnight later, try a semi-liquid mung bean soup – you can cook this using 1 part mung to 5 parts water. Thicken the consistency gradually depending on your baby’s progress. When she is used to a semi-solid consistency, you can start her on soft-cooked mashed vegetables.
6 Months Onward: Move To Mashed Food
At 6 months and going ahead, your baby can eat a wide variety of well-cooked vegetables and fruits – potato, yam, parsnip, peas, beans, carrot, pear, and apple, to name a few. Remember to cool them before feeding. Peach and melon are also soft and easy to eat.17 When your baby is fully accustomed to these foods, you can move from purees to mashed foods. Try soft-cooked meat and mashed chicken. Mashed fish is a delicious, high-protein food, but do check thoroughly for tiny bones. Hard-boiled and mashed eggs, pasta, soft-cooked lentils and rice can all be a part of exciting meal times for your baby.18
Note The Change In Your Baby’s Stools
As more solid foods are introduced into your baby’s diet, her stools will also change, becoming more solid and reflecting the color of the food she eats. The stools may also contain bits of undigested food like vegetable skins. If her stools appear watery, very loose, or mucus-filled, it means her still immature digestive system is irritated. Cut back on solid foods and reintroduce them in reduced quantities once her stomach settles down. Consult her doctor if the loose stools persist.
8–12 Months Old: Feed 3 Meals A Day With All Nutrients
Between 8 and 9 months, a baby will typically be on 3 meals a day. Her diet will include the major food groups: carbohydrates (rice, pasta, bread, and potatoes), protein (meat, eggs, fish, beans, peas, cheese, and yogurt), vitamins and minerals (fruits and vegetables), and, of course, breast milk or formula.
|Rice and millet porridge||Organic brown rice (with kernel): ¼ cup
Millet: 3 tablespoons
Water: 2 cups
|Grind brown rice and millet into a fine powder in a food processor/blender.
In a pot, bring water to boiling point and turn down the heat to a minimum.
Sprinkle the ground cereal mixture into the water.
Use a wire whisk to stir, so that lumps do not form.
When the porridge is cooked, remove from fire, cool and add breast milk or formula to the desired consistency.
|High-protein porridge||Organic brown rice: ¼ cup
Egg yolk : 1 (hard boiled and mashed)
Tofu: 1.5 tablespoons (mashed)
Water: 1 cup
|Grind brown rice to a fine powder in a blender.
Boil water and reduce heat to a minimum.
Sprinkle ground rice into the water and use a wire whisk to prevent lumps forming.
Add egg yolk and tofu.
Stir briskly to bring all the ingredients together.
Cool and add breast milk/formula to the desired consistency.19
Give Finger Foods Like Grapes, Crackers, Or Scrambled Eggs
Around 8 months, when your baby will be more adept at eating harder foods, she may show signs of wanting to feed herself. Encourage her by offering finger foods. This is going to be a messy stage, but a good step toward her learning to eat independently.
- Finger foods to get going include bananas, carrots, apples, and pears.
- All finger foods should be soft and served as small pieces to prevent baby from choking.
- Cook hard fruits like apples.
- Slice, then halve and quarter round-shaped foods – bananas, carrots, grapes – before giving them to your baby.
- Soft scrambled eggs, pasta, or small, well-cooked potatoes are other recommended finger foods.
- For energy-giving snacks, try toast, bread, or crackers. Strips of cooked meat and chicken are good sources of iron and protein.
20 21 22
By 12 months, your baby’s 3 meals would consist of more chopped foods and nutritious snacks like fruit pieces and cooked vegetable sticks. This is also a good time to get baby on whole milk as she needs the additional fat and vitamins found in full-fat dairy.23
Cook Each Food To The Right Consistency Without Seasoning
Commercial baby foods are undoubtedly convenient but can detract from your baby’s desire to try new flavors and textures. It could also slow down your baby’s capacity to chew. Use them only on the odd occasion that you can’t prepare food yourself or if you’re traveling. Homemade baby foods have a greater range of natural flavors. They’re also way less expensive! These simple tips will help you make the most of your baby’s first solid foods.
- Vegetables and fruits: Steam or boil them in very little water. Don’t add salt or sugar.
- Meat, chicken, and fish: Cook in a small quantity of water until very soft without any seasoning.
- Mash or blend: Use a blender to make purees. Alternatively, mash food and sieve to ensure there are no lumps.
Baby food may taste awfully bland to you but don’t let that influence your choices. Your baby’s tongue is way more sensitive to flavors, so don’t add sugar, salt, butter, margarine, or any spices yet.
Maintain Hygiene, Offer Tiny Portions, And Beware Of Choking Hazards
- No matter which solid food you pick when starting on solids, offer no more than just a quarter teaspoon, once a day. Does your baby look interested? Are there any adverse reactions to the food? Increase or reduce the amount and frequency of each food accordingly.
- If your baby dislikes a new food, give a gap of a few days before offering it again. With some foods, you may need to do this several times before you baby accepts them. Be patient!
- Always stay with your baby while she learns to eat solid foods to prevent choking. Foods with a hard texture like peanuts are a complete no-no.
- Make cleaning up after baby’s meals an easier task by spreading a plastic sheet or shower curtain under her high chair.
- Hygiene is super important. Wash your hands well before preparing baby’s foods; wash her hands too before mealtimes. Work counters, utensils, and other cooking aids should be squeaky clean.
- You can reheat baby’s food, but just once.24 25
Watch Out For Allergies
Some foods are known widely to trigger off allergic reactions, typical ones being eggs, dairy products, peanuts, and fish. There’s no proof, however, that waiting until a baby is over 4–6 months of age can prevent food allergy.26 In fact, research indicates that introducing a variety of solid foods – cereals like wheat, oats, rye, and barley, and others like fish and eggs – from the age of 4 months onward may actually decrease the risk of babies developing asthma, allergic rhinitis, and atopic eczema.27
At any time, while getting your baby started on solid foods, if she develops a rash, vomits, or has diarrhea, consult her doctor immediately to plan out a diet that will suit her. If you’re still worried about this – especially if there’s a history of food allergy in your family – a medical professional may be able to help you decide when to start on certain foods.28 Nutrition experts also caution against feeding honey or corn syrup to babies under 12 months of age as these foods could lead to botulism, a rare but potentially life-threatening illness.29
The transition from breastfeeding (or formula) to solid foods is a learning process for both baby and parent. If you’ve systematically introduced one new food at a time in the early stages, you would have developed a good understanding of what your baby likes and, equally important, what doesn’t suit her. It’s a slow process and a lesson in patience. Go with the flow and give her plenty of loving encouragement!
|↑1||Starting Solid Foods. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|↑2||Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. AAP News And Journals.|
|↑3||Working Together: Breast Feeding And Solid Foods. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|↑4, ↑12||Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. AAP News And Journals.|
|↑5||First Foods For Babies. La Leche League International.|
|↑6, ↑11, ↑22, ↑24, ↑26||Starting Solid Foods. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|↑7, ↑13, ↑21, ↑29||First Foods For Babies. La Leche League International.|
|↑8||Starting Solid Foods. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|↑9||Working Together: Breast Feeding And Solid Foods. American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|↑10||Baby Care – Weaning. Better Health Channel.|
|↑14||Working Together: Breast Feeding And Solid Foods. Healthy Children.org, American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|↑15||Baby’s First Foods. Government of Western Australia.|
|↑16||Sharma, Hari, and Christopher S. Clark. Ayurvedic Healing: Contemporary Maharishi Ayurveda Medicine and Science Second Edition. Singing Dragon, 2011.|
|↑17, ↑18, ↑23||Your baby’s first solid foods. NHS.|
|↑19||Lucarelli, Jennifer. “Super Baby Food: Your Complete Guide to What, When, and How to Feed Your Baby and Toddler.” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 46, no. 5 (2014): 456-e1.|
|↑20||Baby’s First Foods. Government of Western Australia, Department of Health.|
|↑25||Baby’s First Foods. La Leche League International.|
|↑27||Nwaru, Bright I., Hanna-Mari Takkinen, Onni Niemelä, Minna Kaila, Maijaliisa Erkkola, Suvi Ahonen, Anna-Maija Haapala et al. “Timing of infant feeding in relation to childhood asthma and allergic diseases.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 131, no. 1 (2013): 78-86.|
|↑28||First Foods For Babies. La Leche League International.|