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When Can Babies Eat Baby Food? A Comprehensive Guide To Starting Solids

What to offer, and how to know when your baby is ready.

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It’s so exciting to think about all the foods that you love and can’t wait to introduce your child to. But after a few months of feeding them formula or breast milk, or a combination of the two, it can feel a bit intimidating to think about offering them food. How do you know when they’re really ready to have anything solid? When can babies eat baby food? Readiness to begin baby food is actually a big developmental milestone for babies, and there are some easy to ways to know that your baby is ready to give it a go. While you should always get the OK from your pediatrician before you make a change to your baby’s diet, there are some general guidelines that apply to most babies. In this article we will address:

  • When can babies eat baby food?
  • Can babies start to eat baby food at 4 months, or should we wait?
  • How long should I feed my baby breast milk or formula?
  • What are the best first foods for babies?
  • Foods to avoid for the first year
  • When can babies have water?
  • Should I give my baby rice cereal?

When can babies eat baby food?

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You probably know that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers breastfeed for the first two years of life, if possible. If you are formula feeding, the AAP recommends you offer formula for the first year of your baby’s life. How ever, you will gradually wean your baby away from breast milk or formula and towards solid foods over the course of the first year of your baby’s life. But when does that weaning process being? When can babies eat their first bite of baby food? “Typically parents that have just first time babies that are really eager to get started, they will give tastes as soon as 4 months, which is perfectly fine,” says Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician and American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson.

Can we start solids at 4 months? Signs your baby is ready for solid food

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“What I tell families is to remember that starting those complimentary foods is a developmental skill,” Burgert explains. Depending on your baby’s developmental pace — and every baby is different — Burgert says that they’re usually developmentally ready to try baby food when they’re around 4-6 months old. Here are the skills that she says to watch for as signs that your baby is ready for baby food:

  • Baby is sitting more independently
  • They're able to drop their jaw
  • They’ve lost or are losing the tongue thrust reflex
  • Their torso a little bit more stable, and then they're ready to receive the taste off of a spoon of complimentary foods.

It’s normal to be excited to start solid foods or classic, puréed baby foods, and Burgert says that it’s OK to start at 4 months of age, as long as you’ve gotten the all-clear from your pediatrician. For all intents and purposes, though, “kids aren't going to consume a large amount of food until they are developmentally ready and able to sit unsupported,” she reiterates. It may be helpful to think of your baby’s first tastes of food more as play than as sustenance.

What can babies eat at 4-6 months? Best first baby foods

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“The best first foods is the one you have the time and the energy to do,” Burgert says. Life with a baby can be busy, and so she advocates a low-pressure approach to introducing food. “We really want babies to go at their own pace, and have a lot of joy, positive feedback and good experiences with those first foods and tastes.” Likewise, she recommends that parents make serving food to their baby easy on themselves, too.

A few easy foods to try when your baby about 7-10 months old and is ready for something a bit more solid than purées, are:

  • Yogurt
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Avocado
  • Ripe bananas
  • Oatmeal
  • Cottage cheese
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Homemade applesauce

Foods to avoid

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Honey is the primary food that every baby under the age of 1 should absolutely not have, and that is because it presents a unique botulism risk. Beyond that, though, most babies can have anything and everything that’s on your table, as long as you’re prepared it in a format that’s safe for their age. That means puréed if they’re 4-6 months of age, or cut up into very small pieces — think Cheerio-sized — for babies that have mastered the pincer grasp.

“If you have a kiddo that has severe eczema — by that I mean steroid-dependent eczema — [parents should] talk to their dermatologist or allergists before starting high-allergen foods,” Burgert adds. “The vast majority of kids with mild eczema and nor normal healthy babies can have a nice diverse and, and a nutrient rich diet right from the get-go.”

The AAP also recommends that — in addition to staying completely away from honey in the first year of life — babies in the early stages of eating solid foods avoid the following foods, because they present a particular choking hazard:

  • Hot dogs (including meat sticks, or baby food “hot dogs”)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chunks of meat or cheese
  • Whole grapes
  • Popcorn
  • Chunks of peanut butter
  • Raw vegetables
  • Fruit chunks, such as apple chunks
  • Hard, gooey, or sticky candy.

Tips for Baby’s first mealtimes

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While you don’t need to stress about it — no one expects perfection, reminds Burgert — it is a good idea to have sit-down mealtimes as a goal for you and your baby. “I am not a huge fan of portable foods. I really like to have a baby actually sit in a high chair, and try to work with a spoon or utensil, not just slurping yogurts and pouches because that’s not teaching them a skill,” Burgert explains. Though sometimes a little “nutrition on the go” is necessary, she really emphasizes the fact that baby mealtimes are as much about practicing developmental skills — like drinking from a cup, grasping food, bringing foods from the table to their mouth, and using utensils — as much as they are about nutrition.

Try not to over-complicate those first mealtimes, Burgert says. Contrary to popular belief, she asserts that it’s not important to fuss about only introducing one food at a time, or wait three days before introducing new foods. “They can have spices, they can have different flavors,” she says. “Say you’re having chicken and rice for dinner. Take a little bit of that chicken, a little bit of that rice, blend it up.” As long as it’s in a safe form — and for babies in the 4-6 month window, that means puréed — it’s OK to offer your baby tastes of the same foods that you’re having for dinner. Later down the line, when they do transition to toddlerhood and into what Burgert calls an “undoubtedly picky period,” the hope is that the early exposure to a wide range of flavors will keep their palate from narrowing too intensely.

If you are hoping to try baby-led weaning, you may want to wait until your baby is 6 months old to start offering food, but that is a longer wait that the AAP and Dr. Burgert say is necessary. As for the advice about rice cereal as a first food that you’re sure to get from someone in your family, Burgert says to avoid it, and certainly do not add it to your baby’s bottle. “I’m steering families away away from rice cereal, except to use as a thickener for puréed fruits or vegetables,” says Burgert.

Most of all, just have fun with it

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Your baby will still get most of their nutrition from breast milk or formula for the majority of their first year of life, so just have fun introducing baby food when you feel you have the bandwidth. You’ve got plenty to juggle, so don’t worry about perfection or making sure your 5 month old has a sophisticated palate. Just enjoy the moments that you can and offer age-appropriate foods as your baby expresses interest and developmental ability and you’ll both do just fine.


Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician and American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson

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