I have started babies on solids three times (my two boys and then my girl). I started them on solids at different times, for different reasons. Part of the timing had to do with them (what they were individually ready for), and also what I as the parent was ready for.
I started my first baby on solids at four months old.
When I had my first child, I was so, so excited to hurry up and reach each milestone. After all, whenever a milestone was achieved (smiling, sleeping through the night, sitting up), there existed empirical evidence that I was doing a good job at this parenting time.
But no, I didn’t just rush him into solids. I spoke at length with his pediatrician, and paid close attention to the signs that my son was ready for solids.
How do you know when a child is ready for solids?
The readiness of the child should definitely be the focus of the inquiry, rather than the readiness of the parent (to nurse less, to make fewer bottles, to ease the burdens on the breastfeeding mom).
The timeline of when doctors are officially ready to recommend solid foods has fluctuated over the years, from four months, to six months. Currently, most pediatricians are recommending that parents wait to introduce solid foods until six months.
Yet, even though pediatricians (and all of the various organizations) talk about a specific time period, the truth is that all of them also acknowledge that the timeline for when a child should be ready differs. In fact, the focus is more about developmental readiness. After all, if your baby is six months old and isn’t developmentally ready for solid foods, you are going to find yourself frustrated (and very messy).
What should you be looking for to determine whether your 5 month old is ready to start solid foods?
- Can your child hold his own head up? If your baby is still sitting in a swing or bouncer leaning back, and can’t hold his head up, he isn’t ready for solid foods (even though he might open up his mouth to accept food). The idea is that the muscles that hold up the head are also muscles that help the child consume and swallow solid food.
- Does your child seem interested in eating food? A great way to tell if a child is ready is to watch his eyes and face when he sees you eating solid food. Sit next to him or her, and eat. Do his eyes follow your fork, as it goes from your plate to your mouth? Does he try to grab the spoon? Does he try to grab the food? Does he open his mouth when you open your mouth to eat? (He probably doesn’t realize that he is doing it). Will he open his mouth if you move food or even an empty spoon towards his mouth?
- Can he swallow food of any kind? Babies don’t come out of the womb with the ability to move food from the front of their months to the back to swallow. When you put the spoon with the food in his mouth, the child has to move the food toward the back of the mouth and to swallow it. In many cases, as a baby is learning to eat food, he will push the food out of his mouth with his tongue. He doesn’t know where to put his tongue, or how to make it work! Or, he may try to “nurse” the food, trying to latch onto it. If your baby doesn’t get it right at the first feeding, the second, or even the third, don’t worry about it. If he is sitting up and seems interested, trying adding more liquid to the mixture until it is close to the consistency of breast milk (or even just feed him breast milk on a spoon) to help him get used to the physical motion of taking sustenance from a spoon instead of a nipple. But if you try for a week or two without success, you might wait a few more weeks.
- How big is your baby? I wouldn’t have thought of this. But it is recommended that parents wait to start solid foods until a child has doubled their birth weight, and weigh at least 13 pounds.
My first child exhibit all the signs of readiness at four months. So with the support of my pediatrician, I started him on a mixture of avocado blended up with breastmilk. (Please, for the love of all that is wonderful in the world, do NOT start with bananas or applesauce.)
I placed him in the bumbo chair on the floor of the kitchen, and I sat crossed legged in front of him. I gave him a spoon to examine first, and then I used another spoon to place a little tiny bit of the mixture on his lips to see if he would open. He licked it, and then he opened. I think it tasted enough like breast milk that he was cool with it. He probably ate about 8-10 spoons worth and then he was done with it.
Can you start too early? What are the dangers?
The developmental readiness is important, because it allows the baby to actually consume food.
But the developmental readiness is important also to protect the infant from the potential harms of eating solid foods. A baby who can’t developmentally understand what is happening or physically eat solid foods could actually inhale the food.
Trying to force a baby to eat who isn’t ready could also create some negative association with the feeding experience, especially if you continue to try and feed him after he cries or otherwise alerts to you that he doesn’t want to eat. When he is otherwise ready later on, he might not open his mouth for the spoon, turn his head, hate the high chair, or otherwise make feeding time difficult.
Doctors also warn of the risk of caloric or vitamin deficiencies if an infant transitions from mostly breast milk or formula before he is ready.
Cautionary Tale (from the experience of a first time parent)
I had a good experience starting my first child on solid foods. He took to the food quickly, and even ended up eating so much that I was able to reduce the number of times I had to breastfeed him during the day dramatically.
In hindsight, I wish that I had limited his food intake so early on, because I think it led to the loss of a lot of my milk supply, which meant that he needed to eat even more food to get his calories for the day (as he would’t take to formula).
Here’s one thing I didn’t know about starting an infant on solid foods. Not only are their mouths and tongues unused to food. Their digestive systems are immature as well. You might be able to get an infant younger than four months to eat solid food, but their stomach and elimination systems are not set up to handle them.
The result is that the food keeps going in….but it doesn’t always come out.
Think about the foods that you might feed a person with the stomach flu. Carbs (like toast), rice (bland, stops things up), bananas (sweet, but also a binder), and apple sauce. I have talked to people (including doctors) who recommend starting children on these foods, but parents don’t realize that these foods can bind up their child’s system, making it almost impossible to poop.
I found this out when I let my first son have some banana at about 6 months old. He LOVE LOVE LOVED IT. So I let him have more. No big deal.
But then the poop didn’t come. Not after one day, two days, or three days. he was obviously uncomfortable, and discomfort turned to pain. Naturally, we consulted with the pediatrician, who recommended prune juice and apple juice. I ended up having to administer an enema to get things moving again.
It was traumatic.
In the future, I did not give my kids any bananas until they were older, and even then in limited quantities.
What foods are recommended then to offer to a 5 month old starting out?
People often say rice cereal (because it is fortified with Vitamin D), but I thought that it blocked my kids up. Instead, I focused on foods that started with the letter P. Peas, Peaches, Pears, Prunes, always mixed with breast milk.
With my second child, I started with prunes. Then after a week, I made up a mixture of prunes and pears. Then after another week, I introduced another food starting with P, also mixing up the food with prunes. In this way, I was able to monitor the firmness of the poop, adjust the amount of prunes as necessary, and avoid any additional trouble with constipation.
As I added additional foods (like rice cereal, squash, beans, etc) I always added prunes to the mixture to make sure everything came right back out.
I recommend that you pay attention to the quantity and consistency of your baby’s poop when you start a new food. You are looking for signs that baby might not be tolerating the food well (allergies, intolerances) and also that baby’s system isn’t quite ready for a particular food.
Are there any foods that you shouldn’t feed a five month old baby?
Your pediatrician will tell you this, but the acceptable food list changes on a regular basis. When I had my first child, we were told not to give babies tomatoes, strawberries, egg yolks, dairy products, peanuts, honey, shellfish, etc.
This has changed. When my third child arrived, my doctor told me to go ahead with everything except honey and milk.
I recommend that you confer with your doctor. Then, start foods one at a time, rather than jumbled up, so you can spot any problems.
Did you start your other babies at four months?
I didn’t. There are a few reasons for this.
My second child was not developmentally ready for eating solid foods at four months, or even five months. He was not sitting up well, and he didn’t seem that interested. Having gone through the poop-tatrophe of the year before, I was only too happy to wait until he was ready. Further, I had another child to make food for, and it was just so much easier to nurse #2 than to make food, pack food, feed him food, clean up the food, etc.
Another reason I waited…..THE POOP. The DIAPERS.
No one talks about how the poop changes.
Breast fed baby poop is easy to clean up. I was doing cloth diapers, so cleaning up a poop was as simple as throwing the diaper in the washing machine.
When a child is just starting on solid foods, the poop can fluctuate wildly, in color, texture, and amount. And the STENCH.
I can still recall the first diapers coming as I introduced foods. As the foods got more complex (especially when protein rich foods got added), I suffered more and more. (Dairy product and meat make the diapers WAY, WAY worse).
I had two children in diapers when my second son was four months old, so for many reasons I did not get as excited the second time around, and I waited until he was truly and obviously ready to try solid foods.
I waited even longer with my third child.
I nursed my daughter exclusively until six months, and I started a small amount of food with her at that point. But it was mostly for exploration. And ultimately, she controlled the curve at which the food was introduced, because she let us know early on that she had some strong opinions about food.
Specifically, she wanted to feed herself.
But at six months, she couldn’t get a spoon to her mouth, and food in her fists didn’t really make it there either. She refused purees of all kinds if she couldn’t eat them on her own, and so pretty much all solid food consumption was at a stand still until she could physically consume something more solid that she could put in her mouth herself, like:
- cooked beans
- cooked tofu cubes
- cubed fruit
Obviously, these are not food that I would recommend for a young child just starting out, which tells you that she didn’t consistently eat solid food until she was 8-9 months old or even older.
I was pretty frustrated during this period because I went all Pinterest-Over-Achiever-Mom and made about three months of pureed baby food for the freezer when I thought my girl was about ready to move to solid food.
She ate almost NONE of it.
I was able to repurpose some of it, in muffins, oatmeal, soups, etc. The boys ate some of it.
But most of it was just a colossal waste of time and money.
Speaking of food, do you recommend making baby food or buying it?
I made all of my baby food, for all of my kids. It was ridiculously easy and so much cheaper. Here’s what I did.
I chose a fruit or vegetable to batch make. Let’s take pears, for example. I washed them well, then peeled them, and cut out anything that I didn’t want to feed the baby (stem, core, etc).
Then I threw all of the pears into a pan, with no salt or any other spice or sugar or flavoring. Then into the oven at about 350, covered with foil, and to be cooked them to death, until they were mushy.
Then I took them out and let them cool.
Then I threw the whole lot (cooked pear juice and all, there are nutrients in there!) into the blender, and blended it until it was a smooth as I wanted it.
Then I poured the pear smoothy into ice cube trays, and froze them. Then I placed the frozen cubes in a plastic freezer bag, and pulled out a cube at a time. Usually I would grab a couple different food cubes to mix up (like a pear, a prune, a squash).
I did try to avoid microwaving any food, because I couldn’t control the temp all that well. Instead, I’d use put the cubes in a small glass jar (like old jam jars) and then sit the jar in hot water in the sink. The food was never hot for my kids to eat, but I never really fed them hot food so they never expected it to be hot.
I estimate that for my sons, I saved hundreds of dollars on baby food. With my girl, I am pretty sure I lost money, since she barely ate anything I made her.
What about juice?
Don’t do it. Whatever you do. Try to delay as long as possible giving your kids juice. Once they have it, it is all they will want. There are much better foods out there for them to get their calories from (like formula or breast milk), or all the baby food you bought/made. It’s not good for their emerging teeth (especially since they don’t really let you brush them very effectively).
Again, reminder, don’t give them…
Honey or cow’s milk until they are at least a year old.
Or anything that could lead to choking. When they are ready for more solid type foods, cut everything up small, and in shapes that are less likely to get stuck. I cut grapes long-ways rather than in half, because half a grape (depending on size) is still a choking hazard. Large hunks of meat or cheese (especially hot dogs), whole strawberries, other whole fruit hunks are dangerous.
(Just ask me about the first time I did the Heimlich maneuver on one of my children, he tried to swallow a WHOLE STRAWBERRY without chewing it. )
Remember, there is no one way or one timeline for a child to get started eating foods. Turn off the well-meaning advice from others (or even the criticisms). This is your baby, your experience. If you and your doctor are in accord, then things are fine, regardless of what your parents or grandparents think.
If your baby gives you trouble with food (or sitting still, feeding themselves, etc), the best thing to do is just to remain calm, and not let it get to you. Raising a child is a marathon of the most epic kind. We all make mistakes, and we all know the areas where we can improve. As a parent, you have to pick your battles. And I assure you, a child who can’t sit at the table at 5 months old, 12 months old, or even 18 months old, can sit at the table and eat with the family when they get older.
Just focus on setting appropriate limits, remaining calm, and loving the heck out of them. The rest of all of this food stuff will work itself out.
Summary: Overall, what would I do differently?
Overall, I think I would try to be more patient. Rushing solid foods caused the constipation problem with my first son, and also contributed to the loss of my breast milk supply.
I didn’t realize how much MORE work I’d have with foods (preparing, packing, cleaning up, the poop). Turns out, the nuisance I thought of as breast feeding is actually a much simpler method of feeding baby. (Food on the go, always ready, always good, never spoiled).
I did a good job of waiting until the kids were ready, and following their lead, but if I had to do it again, I think I’d just sit back a little bit more.
I think I would also go through a infant/child safety course and get the most up to date techniques for death with choking. Most people pound children on the back while choking, but fail to realize that if you don’t turn a child so that their mouth is below the blockage, the whacking may dislodge the item but gravity may be needed to get it out of the mouth.
I had to stick my hand almost down the throats of all my children multiple times to rescue items, and clearly they have all made it thus far, but in hindsight I should have been better informed.
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I think it should be obvious, but I’ve got to say it anyway. I’m not a doctor, a pediatrician, or a medical professional. I’m a mom. I have three kids that I have brought through the introduction to solid food phase. Take any advice you see in this article with that in mind.
If you have honest to goodness medical questions about feeding your baby, consult your pediatrician.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, ages 8, 6, and 3. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Emily is a full-time mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the computer screen when the kids are occupied or sleeping. She started this blog in April of 2019 and is proud that the blog is now paying for itself. If you want to know about her journey as a blogger, check out out her post about failing her way to blogging success.