First foods for babies
How to start solids:
Nurse your baby before offering other foods. Human milk remains the single most important food in your baby's diet until his first birthday. Additionally, he is more likely to show interest in new foods if he is not ravenously hungry. At this age, other foods are more for experimentation, play and fun. Remember to offer to nurse again after the solid "meal".
Some babies like to sit in a high chair while others prefer to sit in somebody's lap. Babies are messy, so you may want to put an old shower curtain under his chair for easier cleanup.
Many babies prefer finger foods to spoons. First foods are for fun and experimentation. Neatness doesn't count!
Never leave a baby or young child alone with food in case they begin to choke. Never give your baby small, hard foods like peanuts or popcorn. Foods that are circular in shape such as carrots or grapes should be sliced and then halved or quartered.
Start with tiny amounts of food – about a quarter of a teaspoon once a day. Gradually increase the amount of food and the frequency of feeding to satisfy your baby's hunger and interest.
Use only single ingredients and wait about a week between introducing each new food. Then, if something upsets your baby, you will know exactly what it was.
To minimize the risk of allergies, it's a good idea to wait until your baby is at least a year old before introducing citrus fruits (including oranges, lemons, and grapefruit) kiwi, strawberries, peanuts and peanut butter, eggs, soy products (including soy milk and tofu), and cow's milk (including cheeses, yogurt, and ice cream). If there is a family history of food allergy, consult your doctor or allergist for advice on when to start your baby on these more-allergenic foods; it may differ from recommendations for babies without allergic history.
Babies under a year should not be given honey or corn syrup as they carry the risk of botulism.
Good first foods for babies
Save money and give your baby the freshest food by making your own baby food. Here are some suggestions.
Most babies love fruits. Make sure they are ripe, and wash well before peeling. Here are some favorites:
- Bananas cut into slices which have then been halved or quartered
- Unsweetened applesauce, or tiny apple chunks that have been softened by cooking in the microwave
- Plums, peaches, pears, and apricots, gently cooked if necessary
- Avocado diced into small, bite size pieces
Fresh vegetables should be washed, peeled and cooked until tender. Frozen veggies are convenient to have on hand. Avoid the canned varieties to which salt has been added. Your baby may enjoy:
- Baked or boiled sweet potatoes, in tiny chunks
- Mashed white potatoes
- Baby carrots, green beans, peas and squash
Meat and fish
Babies often prefer well-cooked chicken, which is soft and easy to eat when shredded. Be careful to remove even the tiny bones when serving fish.
Beans and legumes
Remove the skins from beans as they tend to be harder to digest. If you use canned beans for convenience, make sure they are unseasoned.
Grains and cereals
Commercial, iron-fortified cereals are often the first foods served to babies who are not breastfeeding because they need the extra iron, but breastfed babies are rarely anemic as the iron in human milk is well-utilized. If there is concern about the baby's iron levels, a simple test can be done in the doctor's office.
Whole grain cereals, breads and crackers are the most nutritious. Wait until later in the year before offering wheat products. If you use cereals, make sure that they only have one ingredient and use either water or your own milk for mixing. Many mothers prefer to let their older babies chew on a hard bagel or an end of bread instead of sugary teething biscuits.
The American Academy of Pediatrics:
- "Pediatricians and parents should be aware that exclusive breastfeeding is sufficient to support optimal growth and development for approximately the first 6 months of life and provides continuing protection against diarrhea and respiratory tract infection. Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child.
- Complementary foods rich in iron should be introduced gradually beginning around 6 months of age. Preterm and low birth weight infants and infants with hematologic disorders or infants who had inadequate iron stores at birth generally require iron supplementation before 6 months of age. Iron may be administered while continuing exclusive breastfeeding.
- Unique needs or feeding behaviors of individual infants may indicate a need for introduction of complementary foods as early as 4 months of age, whereas other infants may not be ready to accept other foods until approximately 8 months of age.
- Introduction of complementary feedings before 6 months of age generally does not increase total caloric intake or rate of growth and only substitutes foods that lack the protective components of human milk.
- During the first 6 months of age, even in hot climates, water and juice are unnecessary for breastfed infants and may introduce contaminants or allergens.
- Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother, especially in delaying return of fertility (thereby promoting optimal intervals between births).
- There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.
- Infants weaned before 12 months of age should not receive cow's milk but should receive iron-fortified infant formula."
On the LLLI site:
Our Breastfeeding Resources page on Starting Solids gathers articles, FAQs, and podcasts on this topic for your convenience.
These books may be available from the LLLI Online Store or your local LLL Leader:
- Whole Foods for the Whole Family by Roberta Johnson. Second Edition.
- Whole Foods for Kids to Cook by LLLI
- Whole Foods for Babies and Toddlers by Margaret Kenda
- Mash and Smash Cookbook by Marian Buck-Murray
- Sugar-Free Toddlers by Susan Watson
- My Child Won't Eat! by Carlos González, MD
Resources for Additional Information
Contact a local La Leche League Leader for more information and support.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, published by La Leche League International, is the most complete resource available for the breastfeeding mother. It is available through your local Leader or from the LLLI Online Store