The transition from breast milk or formula to solid foods is a big one, and lots of parents have questions. Read on for answers to common concerns and quick tips for making those first months of food fun.

When should you introduce solid foods?
Everyone has an opinion on when your baby should start solid foods. While older relatives might insist that adding cereal to a bedtime bottle early on in baby’s life would guarantee a good night’s sleep, research suggests otherwise. Most babies are ready for solid food between 4 and 6 months of age, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Prior to 4 months of age, babies’ digestive tracts are still too immature to fully breakdown and absorb the nutrients in solids, so it’s important not to start too early.

The exact timing of when you start solids simply depends on when you think your baby is ready. By 6 months, babies need the additional nutrition that solids provide. This is particularly true for breastfed babies who at 6 months need the additional iron and zinc available in iron-fortified cereals and pureed meats.

The signs baby is ready for solids
You don’t want to rush to introduce solids if baby isn’t ready, so how do you know? One tip-off is the loss of baby’s tongue-thrust reflex. In the first few months of life, this reflex protects baby from choking by using the tongue to push objects out of the mouth. Until baby outgrows this reflex, feeding solids can be pointless since most food will fall out of baby’s mouth. You’ll also know it’s time to start solids when your baby:

  • Is between 4 and 6 months.
  • Has good control of his orher head and can sit well when supported.
  • Has outgrown the tongue thrust reflex and is able to swallow food.
  • Still acts hungry after 6 to 8 breastfeeding sessions or 32 ounces of formula per 24-hour period.
  • Has doubled his or her birth weight.
  • Is curious about what you are eating.

Is there a particular order for introducing foods?
Most people start with a single-grain cereal, such as rice cereal, followed by single vegetables and then fruits. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, however, there’s no scientific evidence that introducing foods in this particular order provides any benefit to baby. While the sequence doesn’t matter, it is important to introduce foods one at a time so that you can monitor any intolerances or allergies. Once baby has been exposed to many different foods, offer fruits and vegetables of all colors on a daily and weekly basis so he’ll get a variety of flavors and nutrients. Simple combinations (like peas and carrots) shouldn’t be offered until you’re certain that baby can tolerate both foods in the mixture.

Excerpted from Cooking Light First Foods, Oxmoor House, © 2010 by Time Home Entertainment Inc.