Babies are born with natural reflexes that help them to nurse, and during the first few months of life, breast milk or formula is all that is needed to provide babies with adequate nutrition. Prior to about four to six months of age, babies cannot control their reflexes well enough to eat solid foods. Somewhere between four and six months of age, most babies will be able to control their reflexes enough to eat solids.
Solid foods, such as infant cereal and baby food, are the first real foods a baby will eat. Most experts recommend starting such foods when the baby is able to adequately control his or her head movements and tongue reflexes. While this developmental milestone will occur at different times for different babies, it usually occurs between four to six months of age. The first solid foods introduced to babies should be easily digestible, such as rice cereal, and the consistency should be thin enough for baby to swallow easily.
Starting solid foods too soon can result in food allergies, and certain foods should be avoided all together until the baby is older. Nutritional experts and pediatricians generally recommend choosing simple fruits and vegetables as a baby’s first foods. Carrots, peas, pears, applesauce, and bananas are all good choices. Parents should keep in mind that babies naturally have a preference for sweeter foods, and introducing vegetables before fruits will not change this preference. It is more important to provide them with a well-balanced, nutritional diet.
When babies are ready to eat solids, parents should introduce each new food individually and wait at least three days before introducing a new one. This allows time to identify any allergic reaction to a particular food. If the baby’s stool habits change drastically or a rash develops after the introduction of a new food, that food should be eliminated from the diet, and the baby's parents should talk to a pediatrician.
As time passes, babies begin to develop a taste for new foods and their breast milk or formula intake will gradually decrease. Babies should not be given whole milk until they are a year old, and foods containing nuts, eggs, and honey should be delayed until they are older. Tempting as it may be, parents should avoid giving a baby table foods that are prepared for the entire family unless they are prepared without salt.
Once babies have tolerated a variety of solids, new textures, such as pastas and breads, can be introduced. Before most parents know it, their children will move on to the next milestone: self-feeding.