Is My Baby Ready for Solids? How Do I Know, and Where Do I Start?

By Doulas of Shanghai

Starting solids is an important and exciting milestone in every baby (and parents!) life. You want the best for your baby, but as you start researching starting solids, you’ll soon realize it’s not so simple. There are a lot of different opinions, and even contradictory recommendations out there.

Throughout the last century, the recommendations around breastfeeding and starting solids changed frequently. As scientists and doctors have done more study into this topic, the advice around starting solids has changed. Some of these out-of-date beliefs have been persistent in sticking around, even when debunked by the latest science and practice.

Advice such as adding rice cereal to bottles, giving infants bottles of water before 6 months old, starting solids at 4 or even 2 months old, is not only outdated, but can be dangerous for your baby.

The different advice from well-meaning family members, friends, and even medical professionals can make knowing how and when to start solids confusing for a lot of families. You may hear contradictory advice and guidance, and that can leave you with a lot of uncertainty when trying to make the right choice for your baby.

Here are the basic up to date recommendations, supported by the latest science and guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. They can help you learn about and gauge your baby’s readiness for solids:

  1. Babies should be six months old when starting solids, and exclusively breast or formula fed until then to maximize nutritional intake.

Starting solids early doesn’t give your baby a head start or better nutrition. Your breast milk and infant formula has more nutrition than a steamed carrot or rice cereal, so starting solids early can actually lead to LESS nutritional intake. Starting solids early fills your baby’s stomach will less nutritional food, and doesn’t leave as much space for nutrition packed breast milk.

In this period of rapid brain and body development, it’s vital to help your baby take it as many nutrients as possible, which comes from your breast milk or formula.

At six months, your baby’s digestive system will be ready for most solids. It will make better use of the solids that you feed her as well, improving nutrition intake from foods.

From 6-12 months, breast milk and formula will remain your baby’s key source of nutrition, but is complemented by solids. Start each meal by breast feeding or bottle feeding before offering complementary solids.

2. Your baby should sit up independently or with minimal assistance, and able to control the head and neck.

When your baby has the core strength to sit up, and the neck strength to control his head, this will help him to swallow foods that he tries. He will also be better able to clear his airway and spit out foods that are not suitable for him. This core and head/neck strength will help your baby avoid choking.

It’s much safer for your baby to sit up rather than lean back when starting solids.

3. Your baby shows interest in your food, can grab foods on her own, or opens mouth when offered food.

For decades it’s been common practice to spoon-feed babies purees or mush before allowing them to try actual solid pieces of food. There’s nothing wrong with spoon feeding, but purees and spoon feeding doesn’t need to be the first step to starting solids.

If you’d like your baby to try independent eating, you can allow her to grab her own foods and bring it to her mouth. This lets her practice valuable skills such as hand eye coordination skills, explore textures, temperatures, and flavors, messy sensory play, and so much more.

Interest in food may look like your baby trying to grab food that you’re eating, or closely watching you at the dinner table. Babies learn through observation and practice, and will enjoy sitting at the table with you and eating together as a family.

And just like you, your baby will be happier when he’s in control of the process, reducing melt-downs, upset feelings, and also reducing overeating. When babies are in control, they may be more likely to try new foods and explore wider range of flavors.

Getting Started with Solids

Allowing your baby to be in charge of their food is a fun process, and gives them the freedom to explore. It also helps your baby stay safe by teaching them the skills they need to carefully put food in their mouth, move it around with their tongue, and swallow safely. Pieces of food should be big/long enough that your baby can easily grasp it in her hand.

You should introduce your baby to a variety of foods from 6-9 months of age, allowing your baby to try lots of different things. You can offer several foods at the same time, so your baby can play with it and experience many different textures, flavors, and show you her preferences.

When getting started, try offering your baby sticks or chunks of soft foods. If you’re able to squish or mash the food against the roof of your mouth, it’s likely safe for your baby.

Your baby can sit on your lap or in his own chair next to you at the table while eating. Your baby will love that it’s a group activity and will learn from watching you.

Isn’t it dangerous to let my baby feed herself?

Some parents worry that allowing their baby to be in control puts their baby in danger of choking. Evidence suggests that babies who are in control of their food may lead to more gagging and spitting out of foods, but does NOT increase likelihood of choking.

In fact, learning about what is safe and what is not safe through closely monitored self-exploration may keep your baby safer in the future when eating. There is no additional risk of babies choking when feeding themselves compared to spoon feeding.

All parents should take an infant first aid class as well, so you know what to do if the event your baby does choke. Always watch your baby closely during meal and snack times.

Is baby-led eating messy?

Yep. Let them get messy!

Any feeding method you use at this stage will be messy. You can put a drop cloth around your baby’s chair to catch pieces that fall (or are thrown) to the ground, making clean up a breeze. You can also change your baby’s clothes following a meal, or simply let them enjoy their meal in a diaper and wipe them down afterward.

This is great info, but I have more questions. Who can I ask?

Your pediatrician, postpartum doula, or lactation counselor are great resources to consult when starting solids. They can help you know if your baby is ready, and guide you on getting started. Every baby is different, and consulting with a professional can help make this milestone safer and smoother for you and your baby.

A postpartum doula and lactation counselor can come to your home and guide you as you get started, as well as sit through a mealtime with you and your baby and teach you how to introduce foods, warning signs to watch for, foods to encourage or avoid, and a lot more!

Contact Doulas of Shanghai to get in touch with a postpartum doula or lactation consultant who can help you and your baby off to a stronger and more confident start with solids, breastfeeding, transitioning to breast milk from formula (or vice versa), and the weaning process.

WeChat: DoulasofShanghai

Phone: 135-2491-8954


Published by Doulas of Shanghai

Doulas of Shanghai is providing the leading care for families throughout pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period.

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