Introducing solid foods to your baby is an exciting milestone. But how do you know when your baby is ready for solids? And which foods should you introduce first?

Pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw says parents are often eager to introduce their baby to solid foods. The appropriate age to do so is generally between 4-6 months, when your baby shows signs that they’re ready.

“They can hold their head steady, they have good head control,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “They can sit supported in a highchair. When you bring a spoon of food by, they seem to lean toward it and open their mouth, so they’re showing some readiness signs.”

Introducing pureed foods

A good way to introduce solids is by spoon feeding pureed foods. Try a smooth, runny texture so it’s not a big leap from breast milk or formula.

“Just start with a tablespoon and try taking tiny spoonfuls out of that, put it on your baby’s tongue and see what they do,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “If they start crying and screaming and spit it all out, then that might be a good sign that they’re not ready. But once kids are engaged and excited when they see the bowl of food coming out, then that’s a wonderful time to start purees of fruits and veggies.”

It doesn’t matter whether you try fruits or vegetables first, but begin with single ingredient foods and add mixes later. Remember that solid foods at this age are more of a bonus because the bulk of their calories and nutrients should still be coming from breast milk or formula.

Baby-led weaning

Tok-Hui Yeap, a registered dietitian and certified Pediatric Nutrition Specialist, says babies who are 6 months and older can use a method called baby-led weaning to allow babies to feed themselves. She is the author of the book “Super Easy Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook.”

“At about 6 months old, you start to incorporate soft, squeezable foods,” she says. “They can eat whatever the adults are eating, as long as, No. 1, the texture is appropriate, so it has to be soft. And then it has to be the size that they’re able to eat without causing choking hazards. It could be a very soft avocado. It could be a strip of banana.”

Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Avoid any food that is hard to chew.
  • Aim for foods with no added sugar or salt.
  • You can use milk in cooking, but milk should not replace the baby’s formula or breast milk.
  • Do not give babies honey before the age of 1 because it puts them at risk for botulism, a type of food poisoning.

“Focus on foods that are iron-rich because babies are born with enough iron stores up until they’re 6 months old, so foods that are iron-rich will better meet your baby’s needs,” Tok-Hui says.

Rice cereal isn’t a good option for your child because of heavy metals in the water where the rice is raised, Dr. Bradshaw says. She suggests sticking with oatmeal or other whole grain cereals.

Identifying and preventing food allergies

To identify any food allergies your baby might have, start with a small amount of one food, then wait 24-48 hours before introducing the next food. The most common signs of food allergy in babies are a rash, hives or vomiting. If you think your baby is having a reaction, stop offering the food and make an appointment with your doctor.

Once your baby is eating a few foods, you can gradually introduce allergenic foods like yogurt, eggs and peanut products, Dr. Bradshaw says. If your baby has severe eczema or has already been diagnosed with a food allergy, discuss introducing those foods with your pediatrician first.

“We do recommend that you give little licks of smooth peanut butter, cashew butter or almond butter, unless there’s a relative, like a parent or a sibling, that has a nut allergy,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “We actually now know that starting purees of nuts in small amounts when a baby is first eating is helpful in preventing later food allergies.”

If you have any questions about how to start solid foods with your baby or experience any issues, talk with your pediatrician. Also, for more tips, review this helpful article about starting babies on solid food.