When and How To Introduce Solid Foods to Your Baby

With your help as a parent, eventually your baby will discover that there’s a big, delicious world out there beyond breast milk and baby formula. And it can be your pleasure to see the expression on their round little face the first time they experience chicken. Or sweet potatoes. Or carrots. Or mangoes. Or bacon.

But when should that happen? Here’s the short answer of what many consider to be a, uh, solid roadmap: Gradually start your baby on new foods, beginning when they’re between four and six months, so long as they seem ready. Luckily, babies display some tell-tale signs when they’re ready for solid foods.   

Here’s how you’ll know: Firstly, they will reach the point where they can keep their head steady on their own, and can maintain an upright sitting position in a baby chair. Around the six month mark, babies develop the ability to move food from the front of their mouths to the back, a prerequisite for taking on foods more solid than milk or formula.

What foods you start with isn’t too crucial — after all, there are a lot of things they have to try and you’ve got to start somewhere! But foods rich in iron, including baby cereal and pureed meats are a good idea, since your baby’s body begins to need iron around this time. Otherwise, bring on meat, vegetables and fruit, all pureed, of course, or cut into baby-bite sized pieces. Doctors recommend parents not bother with adding salt or sugar to the foods, thus letting the baby taste foods without becoming accustomed to added ingredients.

It should be noted that babies should probably get most of their nutrition from milk and baby formula. It’s likely that for quite a while, your baby’s forays into solid foods will come a few mushy bites at a time, just to supplement their normal baby foods.

It’s quite common to introduce new foods one at a time, meaning if you’re introducing carrots to your baby, you may want to give them carrots, but no other solid foods, for a few days. Why? Introducing one food at a time allows parents to easily identify which ones, if any, cause allergic reactions in their baby. If it goes alright with carrots, for example, you can consider moving on to something else for a few days so your baby can get used to the food and you can be sure it doesn’t cause any adverse reaction.

When their baby seems ready, many parents introduce solid foods during just one meal per day. A month or so later, around the seven-month mark, parents often increase the introduction of solid foods to twice per day. And then, one or two months later, to three times per day.

Remember that during the first year, babies should not eat honey or cow’s milk.

There’s a universe of yummy things out there for your baby to try. But there’s also no rush. There’s plenty of time to taste them all, one by one.

Chase Scheinbaum

Chase Scheinbaum

Chase Scheinbaum is a journalist and uncle four times over who's written for Businessweek, Village Voice, AJ+, Men's Journal, Fatherly and other publications.