Spoons? Check. Plastic dishes? Yup. Bibs? Got tons. You've been counting the days and lining up supplies as you approach this exciting milestone: your baby's first solid food. But how will you know she's ready, and what's the best way to begin? Below you'll find the developmental clues to watch for so you'll be able to gauge her interest in food at each stage and her ability to eat it as she grows. But remember, not all babies are the same; your friend's tot may zoom through those tiny jars, while yours repeatedly spits out her cereal. Take heart -- and take it slow. Before you know it, she'll be gobbling up everything in sight.
4 to 6 months
The bulk of your baby's nutrition comes from breast milk or formula -- about 32 ounces a day, which means 6 to 8 nursing sessions or 4 to 5 bottles. Solids should only complement, not replace, her liquid diet.
You'll know the time is right if your baby holds her head up well, sits with little support, and shows interest in food. She should also be past the "tongue thrust" stage, where she pushes the food out of her mouth as soon as it comes in. Be aware that it can take days for her to learn to swallow those early meals. If your baby rejects your attempts, just give up and try again in a few days.
Iron-fortified rice cereal is the best first food because it's the most easily tolerated. Pick a time when your little one is in a happy mood -- right before the second feeding of the day is a good time to start. (If she's starving, take the edge off with a short nursing session or a small bottle.) Try a tablespoon or two of cereal mixed to a thin consistency with breast milk or formula. Don't worry if most of the cereal dribbles down her chin -- for the time being, she's getting used to the new texture.
After several days of rice (and no adverse reaction), go on to other single-grain cereals like oatmeal and barley -- and then fruits, veggies, or meats -- a tablespoon or two once or twice a day. It doesn't matter which you try first, though you can ask your doctor whether she prefers a specific schedule or pattern.
Don't introduce too many new things at once. Give her each item for three to four days and watch for any reaction, like a rash, vomiting, or diarrhea. (If you notice any of these, call the doctor.) Try not to force food -- if she isn't interested, just try again tomorrow. You can stay germ-free by scooping out portions into a bowl, rather than dipping the spoon from the jar to her mouth.