It seems each day your little one is growing. By now they may have sprouted their first tooth or started to master sitting up on their own. All these advances, along with their sudden interest in everything you’re eating, may have you wondering when do babies start eating baby food?

Of course, like all other things, you want to be sure that you’re introducing solids safely, and that you’re giving your baby their healthiest start.

So how — and when — is the best way to introduce solid foods? What foods should you start with? And what else is there to know? Keep reading for the answers to all your questions.

The short answer is that babies should start eating solid baby foods once they’re six months old. The longer answer is that there is some flexibility on when you should start, depending on who you’re asking.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, followed by the introduction of solids at 6 months.
  • The World Health Organization also advocates for exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, followed by introduction of complementary foods at 6 months.
  • When this is not possible, then only donor milk or formula should be given in bottles for the first 6 months.

There is research that supports 6 months as the best time for the introduction of solid foods to avoid future feeding difficulties. However, there are some doctors that suggest that it is okay to start solids as early as 4 months, though there is rarely a benefit to doing so.

Starting earlier than that isn’t advised, as babies are at a higher risk of choking and may actually lose weight because of decreased breast milk or formula intake.

And delaying solids too long after 6 months isn’t a good idea either — as your growing baby needs more calories and exposure to a variety of foods.

Our advice? Listen to advice from your pediatrician before you listen to grandma (at least on this topic!) and follow your baby’s lead. Starting solids is about more than a date on the calendar. Knowing your baby’s development and readiness can help to guide your planning.

Your little one has been growing and gaining in their first months but knowing when to start solids is about more than their size — it’s also about their skills. Before busting out the baby food, ask the following:

  • Does your baby have good head control?
  • Can your baby sit up unsupported?
  • Has your baby lost the tongue thrust reflex?
  • Does your baby show an interest in foods?

If your baby is meeting all these milestones, they’re showing readiness for solids. Keep in mind that their main source of nutrition for the first year will remain breast milk or formula, so keep up the breastmilk or formula feeds.

Introducing solids is just that — an introduction. It is a chance for them to acquire experience and new tastes.

So, your little one is old enough and showing signs they’re ready for solids — what now? Your first steps should be setting up a feeding environment that encourages success.

Solid feeding supplies

  • a high chair
  • baby-friendly utensils
  • bibs (alternatively you can simply undress your baby for meals and incorporate a washcloth or bath clean-up after)
  • plenty of time and a willingness to get messy

Solid feeding schedule

When you’re first introducing solids, you don’t have to immediately jump to a three meal-a-day schedule. Instead, consider starting out by introducing a mealtime early in the day. That way you have plenty of time to have a relaxed experience and, if you do run into any issues with a reaction to a new food, you can quickly get in contact with the doctor.

For the first few months, you may want to consider your baby’s personality when deciding on how to incorporate solid feedings into your breastmilk or formula feeding schedule.

If your little one is patient and always happily finishes all their feeds, you might try adding solids before a feed, when they’re ready to eat and happily curious.

If your little one can’t seem to focus on anything but the breast or the bottle when they’re hungry, try introducing a solid after their feeding as a bonus snack.

Your goal is to gradually work towards a mealtime schedule by the end of the first year, with solids at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus snacks. In between these solid feedings you should continue breast or bottle feedings on the schedule that works for you.

There is no master list of which foods you should feed your little one — or even guidance on what order you should give them. The choice of first food varies from person to person and family to family. And those choices are influenced by different countries and cultures.

It’s up to you whether you use jarred baby food or make your own. You can begin with purées or talk to your pediatrician about baby-led weaning. There are many options. However, there are some considerations to keep in mind when choosing a first food.

Introduce single-ingredient foods

In order to keep an eye on reactions due to food allergies or intolerances, you should introduce a single food at a time and wait 3 to 4 days before adding another new food. Look for signs of an allergic reaction or intolerance like:

  • rash
  • hives
  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing
  • vomiting
  • excessive gas
  • diarrhea
  • blood in the stool

Contact your doctor immediately if you see any of these reactions. It’s important to remember that true food allergies are uncommon in infants, as is anaphylaxis. Sensitivities or intolerances are more common. However, if you suspect anaphylaxis, call your local emergency services or 911 immediately.

Consider dietary needs

If your baby has been exclusively or primarily breastfed they may need iron supplementation. The AAP recommends iron supplementation for babies who receive more than half of their feedings from breast milk starting at 4 months.

Once they begin solids, you can add iron to their diet with foods. This can be found not only in iron-fortified baby cereal, but also in meat, legumes, lentils, and leafy greens. You can talk to your pediatrician about when supplements are no longer needed.

Avoid choking hazards

Whether you’re using purées or baby-led weaning, there are some foods to stay away from. These include:

  • nuts
  • grapes
  • raisins
  • hard raw vegetables
  • large chunks of meat or cheese
  • popcorn
  • nut butter
  • hot dogs

No honey, honey

It can put little ones under the age of 1 at risk for botulism.

Serve up water with meals

Your little one isn’t yet ready for milk or juice, so water is the perfect beverage to have on hand when they’re eating.

Consider food allergy risk

In the past, recommendations differed on how to introduce highly allergenic foods. Newer research suggests that early introduction of peanuts may be beneficial for avoiding allergies, especially in babies with eczema.

Talk to your doctor if you have a family history of food allergies about how to proceed. Introducing peanuts should not be done with whole peanuts or large amounts of peanut butter, due to choking risk. Your doctor can offer tips on safely adding peanuts to your baby’s diet.

Of course, peanuts aren’t the only allergen. Common allergens include:

  • eggs
  • milk
  • tree nuts
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • wheat
  • soybeans

Start with small, portioned servings

Once you’ve scooped a second bite out of a container with a used spoon, the saliva on the spoon means the food in the container isn’t safe to save for another meal. Portion out foods into smaller servings to avoid waste. In the early months, your little one will probably only eat a tablespoon or two at most.

Follow your baby’s lead

If they are turning their head away, fussing, or otherwise unhappy with a meal, it’s perfectly fine to call it quits. Wait for another day (or another week) and give it another try.

Try and try (and try) again

On the other hand, just because your baby doesn’t seem to take to a food the first time doesn’t mean you should give up on that food. It can take 10 (or more) tries before a baby will accept a new flavor.

Once you’ve gone through the process of single-ingredient introductions you can try mixing newer foods with familiar flavors they like to encourage them to give certain foods another shot.

Use breast milk to make cereals or purées

This can boost the nutritional value and add in a familiar flavor as they’re trying new foods.

Embrace the mess

Like many things, introducing solids is a new experience and it will take lots of time to master. Allow your little one to explore the new tastes and textures of their food. Expect more of the food to end up on them instead of inside them.

And take plenty of pictures of that adorable face as they smile, grimace, and drool through this milestone!

Introducing your little one to the wonderful world of food is an exciting part of their first year. Discuss your concerns and plans with your pediatrician and follow your baby’s lead to decide on the right time for starting solids.

A little preparation can lead to lots of messy fun as you enjoy this moment with your little one.