Your beautiful baby is about 4 months old now, and you are beginning to think about giving him solid foods. But you are not quite sure when and what you should feed your little darling. Worse, you have visions of mashed peas being hurled through the air, covering your hair, and hitting the floor and the walls.

Breast milk or fortified formula are the only foods your baby needs for the first 4-6 months. Breast milk should remain the core of the baby's diet for the first year of life.

Your baby's development partly determines when he is ready to begin eating solid foods. Most babies are ready to begin solid foods at about 6 month of age. Starting solids sooner than four months could put the baby at risk.

Your baby may be ready to begin eating solid foods if he:

  • Is able to sit up, with little support, and his head/neck movement is more coordinated
  • Is interested in the foods you are eating
  • Does not push food out of his mouth with his tongue
  • Is able to pull himself forward when food is wanted and move away when full

Eating From a Spoon

Your baby should learn to eat semisolid and solid foods from a spoon and with fingers. Never give your baby semisolid or solid foods from a bottle or infant-feeder because the baby could choke or take in too much food at once. Eating from a spoon and with fingers is the first step toward independence and will help your baby develop chewing and swallowing skills.

Here are some tips that can help you and your baby make an easier transition:

  • Do not expect the experience to be neat. —It is quite likely that more food may end up on the bib than in your baby's mouth, at least at first. Relax and try to make this an enjoyable experience for both of you. Talk calmly and softy to your baby while feeding.
  • Use a very small spoon, one that is meant for babies. —A small spoon with a long handle is preferable. You can find them at most grocery and department stores. Do not use the baby's spoon for tasting.
  • Start with only a small amount of food and work up to more. —Begin with no more than one or two teaspoons of food at a time and gradually work your way up to one or two tablespoons, two or three times a day.
  • Make sure your baby is sitting up straight and leaning somewhat forward. —This position allows your baby to swallow more easily and minimizes the risk of choking.
  • Let your baby set the pace of eating. —Do not feed too slow or too fast. Introduce only one new food at a time, at the beginning of the meal. Introduce new foods when your baby is most hungry. Otherwise, he may not be interested.
  • Try, try again. —If your baby refuses a new food, do not force the issue. Offer it again in a day or two. If he still refuses, offer it again in two or three weeks.

What to Feed Your Baby

Start With Cereal

The first solid foods given to infants are usually iron-fortified infant cereals. They are easier to digest and help meet your baby's iron requirements. Try to start with rice cereal. Cereal should be thin at first—one part cereal to four parts breast milk or infant formula. Your baby will be ready for thicker cereal when he develops eating skills.

Do not use cow's milk to mix cereal because it is difficult for babies to digest until after one year of age. Give only about one teaspoon of cereal twice a day, at first, and then gradually increase to two or three tablespoons twice a day. Other grain products such as rice, soft breads, cooked pasta, and teething biscuits can be added a little later.

Try Smooth Foods First

When your baby is able to make chewing motions and teeth appear, he will be able to eat mashed or finely chopped foods. When your baby gets more teeth and wants to feed himself (usually between the ages of 9-12 months), you can introduce finger foods such as cooked vegetables and soft fruit without seeds or peel.

Try Vegetables and Fruits Next

After your baby is comfortable eating cereal, introduce strained vegetables and fruits—one at a time. Vegetables should be introduced before fruits because vegetables often have less taste after eating fruit. At the beginning, give mild flavored vegetables such as green beans, yellow squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Next, add applesauce, peaches, and pears. Once your baby has accepted several vegetables, give him two different vegetables a day.

After Vegetables and Fruits, Try Meats

After your baby eats vegetables on a regular basis, introduce strained lean meats—one at a time. Offer a variety of pureed or finely chopped meats, including chicken, beef, and turkey.

Start With Single Foods

Offer single cereals, vegetables (such as carrots, squash, green beans, peas, etc), fruits (applesauce, pears, peaches, bananas, prunes, etc), and meat (turkey, ham, beef) rather than combination foods. Also, wait a few days before introducing new foods. This will allow you to see any signs of a food allergy and to know which food caused them.

Signs of food allergy may include:

  • ]]>Diarrhea]]>
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Vomiting
  • Spitting up
  • Wheezing
  • Skin rash
  • ]]>Hives]]>
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, and mouth

Extreme and life-threatening allergic reactions include difficulty breathing, swelling in the throat, decreased blood pressure, and passing out.

Offer a Variety of Foods

Eating a variety of foods will help your baby have a well-balanced diet and develop good eating habits for the future. Also, be sure to offer your baby foods that vary in color and texture.

Avoid Foods That Could Cause Choking

Babies less than three or four years old should not eat small, hard foods, such as chips, pretzels, raw carrots, celery, raisins, popcorn, snack puffs, nuts, or seeds. Slippery foods should also be avoided—candy, cough drops, chewing gum, whole grapes, frankfurters, sausages, and large or tough pieces of meat and poultry.

Do Not Add Sugar, Salt, or Other Seasoning

Babies do not need added sugar, salt, or seasonings. They need to develop a taste for the natural flavor of foods. Avoid adding seasonings to your baby's food. If you buy commercially-prepared baby food, read the label to make sure sugar, salt, and seasonings are not added.

Do Not Give Cow's Milk Until 12 Months

After 12 months of age, most babies do not have as much difficulty digesting cow's milk and can be given whole milk, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese. Children under two years of age are not advised to eat lower-fat diary products because they need the fat for brain development.

Be Patient

It may take a while for your baby to get used to solid foods. If if he refuses, just try again in a few days.

Other Tips

  • Remember that the primary source of nutrition during your baby's first year is breast milk or formula.
  • Offer juice in a cup rather than in a bottle. It helps reduce the risk of ]]>tooth decay]]>.
  • If warming food in a microwave, use a microwave-safe dish and heat to lukewarm.
  • Always read and follow instructions on containers of baby food.
  • Do not feed your baby directly from the jar or you could risk contaminating the leftover food. Spoon small amounts of food into a feeding dish and feed your baby from it. If your baby wants more food, take more from the jar with a clean spoon.
  • Date, label, and refrigerate leftovers immediately after each feeding. Use all leftovers within three days.
  • Leftovers should not be reheated more than once.
  • Do not use honey or corn syrup. In babies, they can cause a serious food-borne illness called ]]>botulism]]> .
  • Never leave your baby alone during mealtime.
  • If you feel that your baby is not eating enough, call the doctor.