Start Feeding Baby Solid Foods
By Susan M. Leisner
Some moms are confused about the appropriate time to begin introducing solid food to their infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics, guided by the Institute of Medicine, currently recommends the following:

From birth to 6 months: Feed baby breast milk or formula only. At 6 months, 4 to 8 tablespoons per day of rice cereal may be introduced by spoon only and only if your baby can support her own head. If your baby has to take cereal from a bottle, she's not ready for it.

At 6 to 7 months: Strained or pureed vegetables and fruits can be offered at 4 to 6 tablespoons per day. You can start offering barley cereal and oatmeal. Watch for any rashes, runny noses and gassy tummies.

At 7 to 8 months: Pureed meats can be started. This is when most babies develop the ability to move small bits of food to the back of the mouth with their tongue. Teach your baby to drink from a sipper cup.

At 8 to 9 months: Baby will require more food at each meal—up to 10 tablespoons of cereal, up to 12 tablespoons of fruits and/or vegetables, and up to 4 tablespoons of strained meat, chicken, fish, legumes or tofu. Offer easy-to-eat finger foods like crackers, soft peeled fruits (bananas, ripe or canned peaches) and dry cereals like Kix or Cheerios. Let your baby try to feed himself these finger foods.

At 9 to 12 months: If you allowed baby to feed herself, she should progress nicely to table foods.

It's important for you to understand that breast milk or formula remains the main source of nutrition during the first year and should always be fed first. The small amount of solids you are introducing is mostly to teach your baby how to eat. The most significant nutrient gained from these foods is iron from the cereal and meats and is used to replace your baby's iron stores.

It's also important for you to remember that these are guidelines. Every baby will be ready for solids in his own time. The most obvious readiness sign is when your infant can support his head and starts looking curiously at your plate!

We are often asked why the feeding guidelines for babies seem to change every few years. Infant nutrition is a newer field of research. As we begin to understand more about infant growth and development, we're recognizing that most babies don't need solid foods before 6 months and often can't fully digest what we do give them. Trying to digest anything too early interferes with baby's growth and development.

One of the newest recommendations is the elimination of fruit juices from the infant diet. Juices are probably responsible for most food-related rashes and have been shown to cause early tooth decay if fed with a bottle. Strained fruits and soft finger-type fruits are much more appropriate for the older infant.

The Women, Infants and Children program (WIC), the largest nutrition program in the United States, is following the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine to eliminate juice for infants, and is introducing whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, and skim or 1 percent milk only for children over 2 years and women.

You can learn more about infant feeding by going to our Infant Feeding Series on this website, visiting the American Dietetic Association at www.eatright.org and calling your local WIC office to talk to a nutritionist.