When (& How) to Start Your Baby on Solids

My daughters are toddlers now, but I’ll never forget my reaction the first time someone asked me if I was excited to start them on solids: I almost cried. Up until that point, I was their only food source, and I liked that level of dependence. Plus, the closer we inched to the six-month-mark, the more I was reminded that time moves too quickly. Alas, the clock wasn’t going to slow down, and my girls were guaranteed to get hungrier. But when it came to starting babies on solids, I felt lost.

There are a lot of opinions on when, how, and what to feed babies who are starting solid foods. Give them vegetables first, lest you want to create a picky eater; purée their foods with an expensive blender; skip purées and give them the real stuff; avoid jarred food at all costs. Humans have been feeding their infant children for thousands of years. Could it be that difficult?

Well, if you were to compile all of the advice — and, let’s face it, old wives’ tales — from blogs, friends, and grandparents, maybe. But with the help of two pediatricians, and my ravenous six-month-olds, I learned that introducing solids to babies doesn’t have to be that daunting — just a bit messy. 

When to start

“The general recommendation — and this is what the American Academy of Pediatrics says — is between four to six months of age. So there’s a range,” Dr. Katherine Williamson, a pediatrician at Mission Hospital and the president of the AAP Orange County chapter, tells SheKnows. “My recommendation on top of that is generally closer to six months of age, but, ultimately, when the baby is ready in that time frame.”

Williamson isn’t the only one to recommend waiting until the six-month mark; the AAP, World Health Organization, and UNICEF all suggest exclusive breastfeeding for the first half-year of a baby’s life while their digestive tracts are still developing. Breastfeeding has numerous benefits for babies, including protection against illness and diseases, weight regulation, and general nutrition. It’s great for parents, too, as it can help diminish risks of type-2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers, and hypertension.

However, that might not work for everyone (and that’s okay!). What’s most important, Williamson says, is that you talk to your pediatrician to determine what’s best for your family’s needs.

“The immune cells in the stomach begin to recognize the foods,” the brand states on its website. “When eaten on an ongoing basis, SpoonfulONE teaches the immune system that the 16 foods are just foods, not allergens.”

The brand offers mix-ins, puffs or crackers that cover everything from peanuts and milk to cod and walnuts. You can rest assured knowing that every product is tested three times for heavy metals, protein integrity, harmful bacteria, and foodborne risks like salmonella.

Opt for a Grow Kit to get a few months’ worth of mix-ins and puffs for your baby. Each one clearly indicates how old your kiddo should be to try out the new foods.

Once you’re ready to dive into finger foods, you can introduce well-cooked pasta, scrambled eggs, minced meat, mushed-up beans, and fish. Just make sure that they’re easy to gum to prevent choking.

Which foods to avoid

While Williamson says, “the new rule is that there are essentially no rules when it comes to food,” she warns there is one caveat: Do not feed babies any amount of honey, due to the risk of infant botulism. “The only thing that babies absolutely can’t have is honey. That’s what I usually tell parents, and I reiterate a couple of times,” she adds. “Literally, they can have everything else.” 

It’s also smart to hold off on “anything that is going to require more intentional chewing,” like popcorn or uncooked apples, until they’re around one year old, Schneider adds.

Getting into a rhythm

In the beginning, “food is just an additive” and “should never replace a meal of breast milk or formula,” Williamson says. At this stage, you’re solely introducing babies to new textures and tastes and are not relying on food to provide the bulk (or, any, really) of their caloric intake.

“The general rule of thumb is: by six months of age, babies are trying food; it’s just a supplementation to their diet,” she continues. “By nine months of age, give or take, half of what they’re taking in should be food, and half should be milk, whether it’s formula or breast milk. And by a year of age, the majority of what they take in is food, and milk, at that point, is a supplement.”

Start with a tablespoon a day and gradually increase the amount over time. You’ll want to consult with your pediatrician to determine what’s best for your baby’s individual needs.

So, should you cut out breast milk by the time they’re a year old? Not necessarily. The AAP and WHO say you can breastfeed up to two years or more if you want, and Schneider says you don’t have to limit how much your child drinks, so long as they are eating, too. “The main thing at that stage is that we want them to have a variety of foods that they’re eating because you’re not going to breastfeed them forever,” she adds. “Try to make sure they’re getting a well-balanced diet.”

But if you’re ready to transition to cow’s milk (or non-dairy milk), Schneider recommends “no more than 16 to 24 ounces in a day.”

About those dirty diapers

Now onto everyone’s favorite topic: poop! You’ve dealt with those sticky newborn poops, Googled every baby poop color under the sun, and have changed countless blowouts. Now get ready for the next stage.

“When babies start eating solid foods, it is very common for their stool textures and colors to change,” Williamson says. “Oftentimes, their stool takes on the color of the food that they are eating, and it can often be much thicker than when they are drinking only breastmilk or formula. As long as they continue to have daily soft stools and do not seem to have difficulty with bowel movements, this is not a concern.”

But if you do notice harder stools or constipation, Williamson recommends offering up to two ounces of water or feeding puréed pears or prunes.

Still have questions? Always consult your pediatrician to determine what’s best for your little one. Happy eating!

A version of this article was originally published in March 2014.

Speaking of poop, make those changes more enjoyable (kinda?) with the cutest diaper prints out there.

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