If your 6-month-old is ready to start solid foods, you may be wondering how to do it.
What Do I Feed My Baby?
First of all, remember that at that age, breast milk or formula is still the prime source of nutrition for your infant. Solid food is just a supplement at that age, and you should still feed your baby plenty of breast milk or formula.
Often, the first food is baby cereal, like rice or oatmeal. Some babies won’t take cereal, and that’s OK. There’s no harm in your baby skipping the cereal stage and going straight to pureed foods, but we do suggest trying cereal first. It has added iron, which your baby needs at this age. Plus, it’s a nice bridge from the pure liquid diet of breast milk or formula to more solid food.
Don’t put cereal in the bottle. Mix it with formula or water and give it with a spoon. If you’re breast-feeding, don’t mix your breast milk with the cereal for the first few attempts at eating. Until your baby shows that they really will eat it, most of the cereal will wind up somewhere else besides their stomach, like on the floor, their head, or the tray. Your breast milk is too valuable to throw away, so mix the cereal with a little water at first. When your infant is taking it well, then you can mix it with your breast milk.
Make the cereal a little runny at first, closer to the consistency of a liquid. If your baby is taking this well, gradually thicken it to the consistency of oatmeal.
Start by offering just a few spoonfuls at a time. When your baby has gotten the hang of it and seems to want more, work up to about 3 to 4 tablespoons per feeding.
Once your baby has been taking cereal reliably once a day for a week or two, try twice a day feedings. Once they’ve done that reliably for a week or two, then you can start pureed foods.
Traditionally, orange and yellow vegetables have been the first foods to give a baby, but other good foods to try first are bananas or avocado. When giving a food your baby hasn’t had before, give it at least three days in a row before trying another new food. This is to help identify which foods your baby may be allergic or intolerant to.
Also, be aware that many of your child’s later dietary habits often have their beginning in infancy. One study has shown that babies who don’t eat many fruits or vegetables in the 6 to 12 month period probably won’t eat many fruits or vegetables as older children.
There are only a few foods you should not give your baby at this stage:
- Raw honey: This can cause botulism in an infant. Wait until 12 months to give your child honey.
- Cow’s milk: Babies can have some cheese or yogurt, but they shouldn’t be drinking milk at this age. They may not be able to digest it properly, and it may cause microscopic bleeding into their stool.
- Any food that is a choking hazard: You can give your baby pureed or soft, cooked carrots, but not a big, round, chunk of carrot that they might choke on. This is true even if the food is not hard, such as whole grapes.
- Certain types of fish in excess: Avoid giving your baby certain types of fish that contain higher amounts of mercury more than once a month. This includes some forms of tuna and a few others. Whitefish, salmon, and light canned tuna are usually safe to give more often. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure of which kinds of fish are safe for your baby.
And unless there is a very good reason (sometimes there are medical reasons to do so), it’s best to avoid giving your child juice at this age. Even 100 percent natural fruit juice has a lot of sugar in it. Excessive sugar intake at this age has been linked to problems later on in life. Intake of sugar-sweetened drinks in infancy has been associated with double the risk of obesity at 6 years old.
You will notice that there are very few foods to avoid. Notably absent from the list are foods like eggs, peanut products, and strawberries. Traditionally, pediatricians told parents to delay these foods, in hopes of preventing food allergies. But new research has shown that early introduction of these foods may actually help prevent allergies. Remember, the foods need to be in a form that is not a choking hazard. A tiny smidgen of creamy peanut butter on a banana, for example, is appropriate, but not a whole peanut. Talk with your doctor if you are worried about potential allergies due to a family history, or if your child may be having an allergic reaction (signs include a rash, vomiting, or diarrhea). Call 911 immediately if your child is having severe symptoms such as trouble breathing.
Babies shouldn’t be drinking cow’s milk at 6 months. But once they are a little more advanced with solids, they can have some yogurt or soft cheese.
When Do I Feed My Baby?
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends delaying solids until 6 months old. Starting on solids much earlier may cause your baby to breast-feed less, causing your breast milk to dry up sooner. Starting too early may also lead to a diet that is low in protein, fat, and other nutrients.
On the other hand, don’t start solids much later than 6 months, as waiting too long can cause some problems with eating. For some children, there is a window of opportunity. If you wait too long to start solids, they don’t seem to “get it,” and may need a speech or occupational therapist to help them learn how to eat solids.
Remember that you are slowly introducing solids to your baby, so there is no need to move too fast. Your infant is probably drinking breast milk or formula six to eight times a day at this stage. The goal, by age 1, is to get them to eat about six times a day:
- midmorning snack
- midafternoon snack
- prebedtime snack
Parents typically feed their child solids in the morning in the beginning, then add solids to the evening meal a little later. But, of course, you can feed your baby whenever you want. We do recommend that if you’re giving a food for the first time, that you give it earlier in the day so you can see any reaction the child may have.
And don’t start the solids when the baby is famished and crying. If they’re in that state, feed them the breast milk or formula, but maybe not a whole feeding. You want them to still have some room for the cereal. Then after the cereal, give them the rest of the breast milk or formula.
You can also try feeding them a little bit before their breast or bottle, at a time when they might be hungry enough to try solids, but not too hungry to be fussy. There’s no wrong way to do this, so experiment, and see what your baby likes better.
How Do I Feed My Baby?
When giving your baby solids, make sure they’re sitting upright in the high chair, belted in place. Make sure the tray is secure.
When giving cereal or pureed foods, put a little on the spoon, and put the spoon to the baby’s mouth. Many babies will eagerly open their mouths and take the spoon. Some may need a little coaxing. If they don’t open their mouth, put the spoon to their lips and see if they respond. Don’t ever force the spoon into their mouth.
Mealtimes should be pleasant, so don’t force your baby to eat if they don’t want to. If they refuse at first, it may be a sign that they’re not ready. If they’ve been eating solids for a while and then refuse something, it may be that they don’t like that food or just aren’t interested. So follow their cues. Talk to your doctor if your baby does not have an interest in taking solids after trying for a few weeks, or if they are having problems with feeding such as choking, gagging, or vomiting.
Try to have the whole family eat together, as this has been shown to have positive effects on a child’s development and bonding with the family.