Baby Food Basics

Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC

MARCH 22, 2017


Starting solids with your baby can be both an exciting and daunting experience. When to start? What foods? How much and how often? This new-parent thing can be exhausting with so much to learn! (Just think about how it is for those little babes for whom every-blasted-thing is brand new!)

Depending on your pediatrician’s orientation and the information you’ve read in books or online, you may be leaning toward starting solids when your baby reaches 4 or 6 months of age. By that time, baby may be showing signs that s/he is ready to branch out from formula or breast milk: sitting up with support; watching you eat, as food moves from plate to mouth; reaching for food on your plate; or opening her/his mouth as you put food in your mouth.

You’ll see all kinds of recommendations about first foods, but generally, a cereal is thought to be the best place to start. Remember that, up to this point, baby has been accustomed to ingesting only liquids, so it’s a good idea to make those first several servings of cereal a very soupy consistency, mixing the cereal with breast milk or formula. As baby gets used to eating soupy cereal, you can experiment with adding less liquid for a more pasty consistency.

If you’re comfortable doing so, use your finger as baby’s first utensil, placing a small dab of food onto her/his lips, to be licked or sucked into baby’s mouth. If you’d rather not add to the, likely, mess of the process, use a baby spoon that has a smooth coating that will not hold heat (as metal does). The outcome of the first feeding could be any of the following: baby is on board with solids, eagerly eating what’s offered; and more likely will play out as baby taking a teeny bit before turning her/his head to signal that solid food mealtime is over for now; or baby might not respond at all to the dab of cereal on lips or tongue, which might be an indication that baby’s not quite ready to start solids.

As you’ve done from the moment your baby was born, you’ll be noticing baby’s reactions to the introduction of food-other-than-formula/breast milk. Does baby willingly accept the food offered and with a smile? Or does baby turn her/his head to the side, or lean away from the food? Despite how it may feel to parents, baby’s refusal of food is not a rejection of you! Never force food on baby — a set-up for struggles down the road, and sends a mixed message to baby about trusting signals from baby’s body about hunger and feeling full.

At the start of solid foods, baby will still be getting most calories and nutrition from formula or breast milk, so don’t expect baby to eat a full solid foods meal for some time. By introducing solid foods, baby becomes familiar with new textures and tastes, and this helps to pave the way toward increased variety and consumption of solid food. Other first foods include bananas, pears, avocado, sweet potatoes, carrots or whatever you choose!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, when introducing a new food, it is best to wait 3 to 5 days before introducing another new food. This gives parents time to notice if baby has any reaction to the new food. Offering a new food in the morning permits time for baby’s body to process any allergic reaction/intestinal discomfort during the day. Even if baby seems less-than-pleased with a new food, it may take offering the new food over several mealtimes before it’s clear whether or not baby likes or dislikes a particular food.

A few other thoughts:

  • It’s going to be messy – try to be patient with baby and yourself.
  • Try to do a solid food meal at a time when you won’t be rushed.
  • Wearing your sense of humor is as important as wearing clothes you don’t mind getting stained!
  • You are teaching your baby important skills.
  • Baby’s food play, while messy, is one of the main ways that baby learns about this new concept of solid food, as well as how to start feeding him/herself.
  • Other parents can be great resources. What strategies/foods worked best?

As you venture forth into the land of solid foods, know that you will figure things out as you go, and that, in sharing in this experience with your baby (teaching and modeling for her/him, and reading and appropriately responding to his/her cues), you are strengthening the bond between parent and child. And that is a wonderful thing! 

Below are two helpful links on introducing solids.

Please share other resources that you find useful.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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