Feeding Your Baby – When to Introduce New Foods

Posted at 4:49 PM on Oct 6, 2022


As your baby grows, one of the many important milestones is the advancement of their diet. While there are different approaches to introducing foods to baby, below is a common method that is widely accepted by physicians, parents (and babies!) 

How to Tell When Baby is Ready for New Foods

Generally, between age four and six months, baby is ready to try foods other than breastmilk or formula. There are certain milestones to look for to know if your baby is ready. And, know there is no rush as experts generally recommend waiting until closer to the six-month mark to start. At this age, MOST of baby’s nutrition is still coming from breastmilk or formula.

Signs baby is ready to start adding foods include:

  • Ability to control their head and neck
  • Sitting up alone or with support
  • Regularly gripping objects like a baby spoon
  • Bringing objects toward their mouth
  • Interested in food and opens their mouth when offered
  • Can use their tongue to move food from the front to the back of their mouth
  • Swallows food that is offered

What Foods to Offer

Simple Single Ingredient Foods - “Baby Food” (4-8 months)
Baby is ready to start eating new foods, so it’s time to determine what they should be given and when. In general, starting simple is best. Offer them plain baby food with no added sugar or salt. You may purchase baby food from the grocery store or puree your own. It is best to start with one ingredient foods and watch for any signs of a reaction to the food, such as diarrhea or a rash.

Wait a few days between introducing new foods to determine what foods may have caused a reaction, should one occur.

Fortified Baby Cereal (4-8 months)
Single grain cereals (such as rice cereal and oatmeal cereal) are also a great option to start introducing once baby is ready. Cereals fortified with iron are the best choice as iron helps with brain development. Cereal should be fed by spoon, not added to the bottle (unless directed by your physician).

To prepare the cereal, combine one teaspoon of single-grain cereal with 4 to 5 teaspoons of breast milk, formula, or water. Sitting your baby securely upright, you can then begin to slowly introduce them to the cereal. Most of the cereal will likely end up on the baby’s chin rather than in their belly. It may take some time for baby to figure out how to eat from a spoon. If they are not interested right away, that is ok; try again another day. Or even wait a couple of weeks. Remember, do not force them to eat. If they show signs that they are no longer interested, it is time to be done. 

Simple Soft Finger Foods (8+ months)
Once baby is getting the hang of pureed foods, you can introduce soft handheld food options – often referred to as “finger foods”. Babies usually like the room to play and try to feed themselves, so soft finger foods are often a fun (but messy) addition to their diet. Typically, these foods are started once baby starts using a pincher grasp.

Handheld foods to consider:

  • Rice puffs – a nice first option because they dissolve away
  • Cooked peas – cooled fully
  • Small pieces of banana
  • Wedges of avocado small enough for baby to grab

Mashed, Chopped, or Ground Foods (8+ months)
Once baby has the hang of eating pureed foods, it’s time to introduce more textures. Consider yogurt, cooked diced sweet potatoes, well-cooked diced meats, cooked noodles, small chopped soft fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, pancakes, eggs, and more. Continue to offer variety to baby. If they do not like something the first time, continue to offer to encourage a well-rounded palate.

What about Breastmilk, Formula, Water, or Juice?

It’s important to remember even after beginning to introduce baby to new foods, they still need to regularly consume breast milk or formula to balance their diet. Here is a general guideline:

  • Up to 9 months, feed your baby 20 to 28 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 3 to 4 hours.
  • From 9 to 12 months, feed them 16 to 24 ounces of formula daily or breast milk every 4 to 5 hours.

Babies may have some water starting at six months. Juice is not needed, and it’s usually best to wait until baby is over 12 months. Then give in a watered-down fashion.

Foods to Avoid

Generally, before one year of age is advised to avoid introducing certain foods, such as:

  • Cow’s milk
  • Honey which may cause infant botulism
  • Foods that present a choking hazard like grapes, hot dogs, marshmallows, raisins, hard candy, and nuts 

When in Doubt, Always Talk to Your Doctor

The guidelines above are general and will not be followed precisely for each baby. Mealtimes with your baby should be enjoyable. Your doctor is the best resource to determine when and what to start feeding your baby and answer any concerns you may have.