Breast-feeding has been shown to improve infant, child and maternal health outcomes and help control health care costs, but how long should breast-feeding last and when should parents introduce solid foods, also known as complementary foods?
Multiple health-focused organizations, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the World Health Organization, recommend exclusive breast-feeding, meaning the infant receives only breast milk, for the first six months of life to provide optimal nutrition and health benefits. Whether your baby is breast-fed or formula-fed, solid foods may be introduced starting at six months of age.
Once solid foods are introduced, health professionals recommend continuing breast-feeding through 12 months of age and, after that, as desired by mother and baby.
Is your baby ready?
Signs a baby may be ready to start solid foods include sitting up with minimal support, demonstrating good head control, reaching for food off other family members’ plates, or refusing food or a bottle by turning away.
The order in which foods are introduced doesn’t matter for most babies. Traditionally, iron-fortified baby cereals with breast milk or formula are given first followed by vegetables, fruits and meats. However, if your baby has been primarily breast-fed, puréed meat or poultry may be a good food to start with as they provide more easily absorbable iron. Either way, foods should be puréed to avoid choking, and infant cereals and other solids should never be put into baby’s bottle.
How do I start?
Begin by offering a few spoonfuls each day, and introduce one new food at a time to monitor for allergic reactions such as diarrhea, rash or vomiting. Allow several days to pass before moving on to a new food. Parents with food allergies should discuss concerns with their pediatrician.
As foods are tolerated, continue to expose your baby to a variety of foods. Some children may need multiple exposures to a new taste before enjoying it
Ready to start solids? Examples of appropriate complementary foods listed by age:
- Ground, cooked, single-grain cereal or infant cereal with breast milk or formula
- Mashed banana, avocado or cooked beans
- Cooked and pureed carrots, peas or sweet potato
- Cooked and pureed meat or poultry
- Sliced and quartered bananas or small pieces of other soft fruits
- A variety of cooked vegetables cut into small pieces, such as squash and green beans
- Whole cooked beans
- Well-cooked, minced or finely chopped meat, poultry or fish
- Small pieces of fruit
- Small pieces of cooked vegetables
- Soft, shredded meat, poultry or fish
- Mixed food dishes the family is eating in appropriate sized pieces
*Avoid foods that may cause choking such as nuts, whole grapes, hard candy, chunks of meat or cheese and many raw vegetables until your child is four years of age.