Readiness to Start Solid Food

Not sure how you want to start solids? See our page on methods of starting solids.

Is baby ready to start solids?

Most healthy, full-term, typically developing babies are ready to start eating solid food around 6 months old. Before you dive in, however, make sure your baby has reached these critical developmental milestones:

  • Sitting: Baby is able to sit with minimal support
  • Head Control: Baby is able to hold head upright and steady while seated for duration of meal (about 15 minutes)
  • Reach & Grab: Baby is able to pick up objects while seated and easily bring them to the mouth
  • Interest: Baby intently watches you eat, mouths for food, or leans forward for it

Signs that baby is ready for solid foods, readiness signs for solids
Adie, 6 months, sits relatively unsupported but leans forward still. Another week of floor time and she may be ready.

Babies who are showing all of the above developmental milestones have the foundational skills needed to safely explore solid foods. While some pediatricians still advise starting babies on rice cereal and purées around 4 months old, this is outdated advice: as of 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. National Institutes for Health, and World Health Organization all recommend waiting until your baby is around 6 months old and showing signs of readiness to introduce solids. Further, studies have shown that starting solids before 4 months of age can be associated with unhealthy weight gain, both in infancy and early childhood.1

You may have heard that one of the signs of readiness for solid food is the disappearance of the tongue thrust.  This claim, however, is not supported by research and it is our strong professional opinion that you need not wait for the thrust to disappear and that the thrust can actually be helpful when starting solids. Read more.

Ready for solids? Let’s get started! See our guides and videos on starting solids and preventing picky eating.

What if my baby is 6 months old but cannot sit independently?

In general, we align with AAP and WHO recommendations to start solids. Baby should be able to sit with minimal support before starting solids, including purées, which are essential for safe chewing and swallowing, and the baby’s ability to self-feed by reaching with the arms to bring food to the mouth. Baby should maintain their head and neck upright without slouching in any direction when seated in a high chair. Head and neck stability are crucial; if the baby needs support holding the head upright, consider waiting to start solids and focus on developmental play, including tummy time and side-lying. Some babies are not ready to eat until 6.5-7 months old.

How to get started on solid food

If your baby is showing all of the above signs of readiness, hooray! A food adventure awaits! There is no perfect way to introduce solid food to your baby for the very first time, but there are three general approaches to feeding: baby-led weaning (finger food first), spoon-feeding, and combo feeding (a mix of spoon-feeding and self-feeding). Regardless of the approach you take, solid food should complement—not replace breast/human milk or formula until your baby is at least one year old.

To learn more about each of these feeding approaches, hop over to our section on methods and feel free to improvise. Food is cultural and every family is different.

What are the best first foods for babies?

Contrary to popular belief, babies do not need to start solids with bland rice cereal and watery purées. In fact, most commercial baby food contains ingredients like rice, carrots, and sweet potatoes that are naturally high in toxic metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury) and are not the best choices for developing brains and bodies.2

Oatmeal as an alternative to rice cereal

In terms of the best first foods, there are many nutritious options, but what is “best” for your baby will be different than what is best for another’s. Nutritionally, the best first foods for babies are those high in iron, protein, calcium, vitamins A, C, D and zinc, with iron being one of the most critical of these nutrients.3 For our favorite first foods for babies, check out our guides, or browse our free First Foods® database.

In addition to nutrients, consider which foods you and your family love when choosing your baby’s first foods. Because there are significant benefits to parent modeling, or eating the same foods at the same time as your baby4, first foods are best served as part of a family meal from the start, where you can model for your baby both the enjoyment and skills involved in eating.  

Studies have shown that babies who are repeatedly exposed to a variety of foods in their first year of solids are more likely to accept new foods later on5 and that babies who are mostly fed a diet of bland, textureless foods are more likely to prefer these kinds of foods later in life.6

In terms of equipment, there are two categories of things you’ll want to have on hand before starting solids: items that help you create a safe eating environment and items that minimize the mess.

To prevent picky eating and to ensure you are offering the nutrients your baby needs, focus on serving a wide variety of iron-rich food, including beans, lentils, red meat, organs (such as liver), poultry, nuts, peas, and low-mercury fish, such as salmon and sardines.

When should I start solids with a premature baby?

There is a lack of research on optimal timing for introduction of solids to preterm infants. For healthy preterm babies, our experts recommend beginning to look for signs of readiness (above) around six months chronological age, assuming that most (not necessarily all) preemies are ready sometime between 6 months chronological and 6 months adjusted (or corrected) age. There is some research to suggest that solids should not be introduced prior to 3 months adjusted or corrected age, even if baby is at 6+ months chronological age.7

For babies born prior to 32 weeks or babies with other co-occurring or underlying medical conditions or developmental differences, we’d recommend you consult with your medical and therapy teams to better assess when your baby is ready and if they would benefit from additional support or modifications. In general, signs of readiness are more important than age, but for some babies, due to more significant developmental delays or medical needs, adaptations may be necessary to ensure that they are given opportunities to explore foods in a safe manner during the second six months of adjusted (or corrected) age.

How much solid food should my preemie be eating?

Just like for full term babies, consumption should not be the focus when starting solids. Starting solids is a time for learning brand new skills and motor patterns, so prioritize skill building, not how many bites are taken or how much gets swallowed at the table. Premature babies may have increased nutritional needs compared to full term babies, but those needs should be met primarily by breast (human) milk or formula, not solids, from 6-12 months old. Aim to offer your baby just one solid food meal opportunity per day the first 1-2 months of starting solids, increasing to 2 times per day after that, then moving towards 3 times per day close to 12 months adjusted or corrected age.

What is the best food for a premature infant?

While there is no perfect food to start with for premature babies, aim to introduce a wide variety of nutrient dense solids over those first several months of starting solids. This way, any amount that is swallowed has a big impact. Use our first food database to filter by 5-star foods, to find the most nutrient dense options that suit your family and culture, and serve these. Keep in mind that premature babies may have developmental delays, medical issues (such as respiratory concerns, cardiac anomalies, or gastrointestinal differences), or sensory processing differences, which can all impact the speed of learning new skills and may put a premature baby at increased risk for choking compared with full term peers. Due to this, we advise you to default to the safest food preparations possible when starting solids, go slow, and use extra caution when advancing to finger foods.

When should I wean a premature baby?

While you may have heard that toddlers can technically be weaned fully off the bottle and off breast/chest feeding by around 12 months old, many full term, typically developing babies are not quite ready for this until closer to 15-18 months old. We would expect many premature babies to need additional time beyond this before being ready to wean fully off breast (human) milk or formula, likely not until closer to 18-24 months old. This additional time assures that they have strong chewing skills and can eat a wide variety of solid foods efficiently. Weaning however is a very personal decision and should be done when it feels right for your baby and you.

When do premature babies catch up for feeding?

Most premature babies are able to catch up to peers with regards to development by around 2 years old adjusted or corrected age, when the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no longer correcting for prematurity. We would expect most premature babies to catch up with their feeding and oral motor skills by that time as well. If they have not, or as soon as you realize that they will likely not be able to catch up by 24 months, speak with your child’s doctor about a referral to a feeding specialist (an occupational therapist or speech and language pathologist who specializes in pediatric feeding).

Is sitting with support bad for babies?

Placing babies in sitting “containers” like a bumbo seat, swing, bouncer, or stander for extended periods of time can be detrimental to a baby’s development. The less time babies spend in unrestricted floor time, the less they practice moving and learning to get in and out of positions on their own. Containers/sitting devices that place the hips in what’s called posterior pelvic tilt—think of sitting with your knees higher than your hips and your butt tucked (like a bumbo seat) may cause issues with the musculoskeletal development of the spine. From a research standpoint, there is data to support that babies spending more time on the floor is conducive to the faster acquisition of motor skills.  But the rest is more assumed/ correlated not proved causative.

Using supported sitting during short periods of play to facilitate baby’s use of their extensor muscles and core stabilizers is a widely accepted therapeutic practice, for children with and without developmental delay. There is no research to support the idea that short periods of play in sitting on the floor with a caregiver assisting is in anyway detrimental to motor or musculoskeletal development, and on the contrary, can help develop the muscles of the back and spine as baby learns to shift weight and correct for loss of balance.

Río, 6 months, eats avocado.

What you’ll need to get started

In addition to a proper high chair, there are a few things you’ll need before you start your baby on solid food. But of equal importance to the equipment, is your own mental readiness. Make sure to create a safe eating environment. Familiarize yourself with the methods of introducing solids. And lastly, manage your expectations: learning to eat is a process and it will take your baby some time to get the hang of it.

Safety Equipment:

  • High chair: Upright seat, adjustable footplate, and removable tray so baby can eat at the table with you. Learn more about what to look for in a high chair (or how to modify one you already have) in our Ultimate Guide to High Chairs for Babies.
  • Open Cup: Age-appropriate, small open cup that won’t break or shatter.
  • Plates & Bowls: Dinnerware that won’t shatter or hurt someone when it flies across the room. Those that suction to the table and have a rim work best for self-feeding.

Minimizing the Mess:

  • Splat Mats: 2-3 waterproof mats for underneath and around the high chair.
  • Bibs & Smocks: Bib with a catch basin and 3-4 smocks (can be worn beneath the bib)
  • Washcloths: Lots of them!

Note: This page has been created with typically developing infants and children in mind. The information here is generalized for a broad audience and is for informational purposes only. Your child is an individual and may have needs or considerations beyond generally accepted practices. If your child has underlying medical or developmental differences, including but not limited to prematurity, developmental delay, hypotonia, airway differences, chromosomal abnormalities, craniofacial anomalies, gastrointestinal differences, cardiopulmonary disease, or neurological differences, we strongly recommend and encourage you to discuss your child’s feeding plan and when and how to start solids and finger food with the child’s doctor, health care provider or therapy team. Close consultation with a feeding and swallowing specialist can provide safe guidance for the child’s feeding journey.  Always seek the advice of your doctor, health care provider or therapy team with any questions you may have regarding your child’s development and capacity for starting solid foods.

  1. Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Timing of Solid Food Introduction and Risk of Obesity in Preschool-Aged Children. Susanna Y. Huh, Sheryl L. Rifas-Shiman, Elsie M. Taveras, Emily Oken and Matthew W. Gillman Pediatrics. March 2011, 127 (3) e544-e551.
  2. Healthy Babies, Bright Futures, Lowering the Levels: A Healthy Baby Food Initiative 2019.
  3. NCBI, Infant and Young Child Feeding, 2009.
  4. Wardle J., Cooke L. Genetic and environmental determinants of children’s food preferences. Brithish Journal of Nutrition. 2008; 99(1): S15-S21. doi: 10.1017/S000711450889246X
  5. Bouhlal S., Issanchou S., Chabanet C., Nicklaus S. ‘Just a pinch of salt’. An experimental comparison of the effect of repeated exposure and flavor-flavor learning with salt or spice on vegetable acceptance in toddlers. Appetite. 2014;83:209–217. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2014.07.032.
  6. Bently, Amy. Inventing Baby Food. p 159. (2014).
  7. Cleary, J., Dalton, S., Harman, A., & Wright, I. (2020). Current practice in the introduction of solid foods for preterm infants. Public Health Nutrition, 23(1), 94-101. doi:10.1017/S1368980019002337