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Ready for Solids?

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

Breast milk/formula
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.

Watch for
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.

Start with
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.

Move to
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.

Avoid
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.

7 to 9 months

Breast milk/formula
Your baby will drink a bit less, but this is still his main source of nutrition-24 to 32 ounces of liquid (4 to 5 bottles or 5 to 8 nursings of breast milk).

Watch for
He's honing his pincer, or thumb-and-finger, grasp now, so toward the end of this stage you can begin to give him some practice: Set out tiny bits of soft food such as ripe banana or avocado (¼ inch in size, or no bigger than your pinkie nail). Cheerios, a good first finger food, are fine to try around 8 or 9 months. Not every new food will be a hit  -- it may take 10 to 15 tries to get your baby to eat something that's unfamiliar.

Start with
Cereal and new single-ingredient foods should continue, and you can also mix familiar ones together (peaches and oatmeal, for example) or try "combo" or "second stage" jars if he's had all of the ingredients listed. Offer solids twice a day; if he's interested in more (and eating a total of two to four tablespoons at each meal), work up to a third meal.

Move to
Thicker textures are next  -- whole-milk yogurt, cottage cheese, and tofu. As your baby gets the hang of finger foods, you can increase the variety (continue to offer tiny pieces). Try pasteurized cheese; small bits of well-cooked peas, beans, broccoli, and sweet potato; soft whole-wheat pasta and bread; and soft, very ripe fruits such as melon or peaches. How much food does he need now? Let your baby be your guide  -- some days he'll polish off entire jars, and other times he'll eat half as much. Don't force him to eat more.

Avoid
Memorize the most common choking hazards and share them with family and babysitters. Four ounces of juice a day (100 percent, no sugar added) can be offered now (diluted with water if desired), but whole fruits are more nutritious. Try serving juice (or water) in a sippy or regular cup, rather than a bottle.

10 to 12 months

Breast milk/formula
Feedings will diminish to about 3 or 4 bottles or 4 to 6 times at the breast, totaling 16 to 24 ounces of liquid.

Watch for
Your tot's more mobile  -- crawling, reaching, pulling up. Resist feeding her on the go, since she could choke if she's trying to toddle and eat at the same time. Limit car snacking, too, as you can't see her well from the driver's seat. Strapped into the high chair while supervised is the safest spot for meals.

Start with
Keep up the variety of tiny pieces of food: soft cooked pasta shapes; shredded chicken or turkey (no skin); soft cooked vegetables; ripe fruit; toast or bread; fish (once a week); soft pasteurized cheese; and hard-cooked or scrambled egg yolks.

Move to
By the first year, strive to serve as much "table food" as you can, weaning away from jars. Three meals a day is the goal at this stage.

Avoid
Cow's milk and honey are off limits in the first year because milk proteins and fat aren't easily digested before age 1 and honey may contain the bacteria that cause botulism. Other foods that can trigger an allergic reaction include products with tree nuts (cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds), peanuts and nut butters, egg whites, shellfish, and citrus fruits. Most doctors recommend waiting until after the first birthday (or longer if there's a family history of allergies) to try these.

Over 12 months

Breast milk/formula
Whole cow's milk (not skim or low-fat; fat is essential for brain growth) replaces formula or supplements nursing  -- about three 8-ounce servings per day.

Watch for
Don't be alarmed if your baby goes on a food jag (only pasta and peas, no fruit for days). While you wait for this "picky phase" to pass, consider the foods she's eaten over the course of a week rather than on one day. Also, around the first birthday growth tends to slow down a bit, so you can expect her appetite to decrease as well.

Start with
Offer a variety of healthy foods three times a day. A rough guide to the amount she'll eat in a day: 4 to 8 tablespoons of fruits and vegetables, 4 servings of breads and cereals (a serving is ¼ slice of bread, 2 tablespoons of rice, pasta, etc.), and 2 tablespoons of protein, such as meat or poultry.

Move to
Get into the habit of eating together with your baby at least once a day, if possible. She'll enjoy the socializing that comes with mealtime and will start to look forward to this routine each day.

Avoid
You know soda has no place in your baby's daily diet. Be just as cautious with high-fat and sugar-loaded items. By choosing healthy foods now, you'll teach your baby to prefer them later in life.

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