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How to Make the Leap to Solid Foods

For very young babies, breast milk is best, but once your baby reaches the 4- to 6-month mark, it's time to introduce table foods. You'll still need to breast- or formula-feed through his first year, but now's the time to teach the healthy eating habits that will help him grow -- and thrive!

First Foods

Some pediatricians advise waiting until 6 months to start solids, others say anytime between 4 and 6 months is fine. What really matters is when your baby is ready. The bulk of her nutrition comes from breast milk or formula -- about 32 ounces a day -- but you may see signs that she's ready for the next step: holding up her head well, sitting with little support, showing an interest in food. She should also be past the "tongue thrust" stage of reflexively pushing solid food out of her mouth.

Make these first feeding attempts during her "happy time," such as right before the second feeding of the day. The best first meal is a tablespoon or two of iron-fortified rice cereal (It's easily digested.) mixed into breast milk or formula to a thin consistency. A ratio of 1 tablespoon of cereal to 4 to 5 tablespoons of breast milk should work. Don't worry if most of it dribbles down her chin at first; she's getting used to the new texture and the sensation of swallowing.

If she reacts well, after three to four days move on to other iron-fortified, single-grain cereals like oatmeal and barley. Around 6 months, try a tablespoon or two of pureed fruits, veggies or meats up to twice a day. It doesn't matter which you try first, it's more important that you introduce new foods one at a time, several days apart, so you can watch for allergic reactions like a rash, vomiting or diarrhea. (If you notice any of these, call your doctor.) Don't force food -- if she isn't interested, just try again tomorrow.

Next On the Menu

At 7 to 9 months, baby may start drinking a bit less breast milk or formula, 24 to 32 ounces a day. He'll also start honing his pincer (thumb-and-index finger) grasp, so give him some practice with soft food. You might try green beans or graham crackers served in tiny pieces no bigger than a pinkie nail. Keep in mind, though, that most pediatricians suggest you serve veggies before fruits.

Offer solids twice a day; if he wants more -- and is eating 2 to 4 tablespoons at each meal -- work up to a third meal. Let him decide how much food he needs. Children instinctively self-regulate their eating, so some days he may polish off entire jars, while on others he'll down only half.

Focus on nutrient-rich fruits and veggies such as ripe banana or avocado. You can also start combining foods once they become familiar (like bananas mixed with oatmeal) or try "second stage" jars if he's already had all the ingredients. Cheerios are fine to try at around 8 or 9 months.

Thicker textures -- whole-milk yogurt, pureed meats, tofu -- are next. As he gets the hang of it you can increase the variety, but stick with tiny pieces. Memorize the most common choking hazards and share them with family and babysitters.