Most babies will show an interest in solid food around 6 months of age. You will know that your baby is ready for solid foods if she can:
- Sit up with little or no support
- Hold her head up
- Pick up foods and put them in her mouth
- Swallow foods without gagging
In addition to being developmentally ready, your baby needs to show an interest in foods other than breast milk or formula. Does she watch you eat? Does she try to snatch food from your plate? Does she react positively (opening her mouth wide) or negatively (clenching her jaw and turning her head) to a spoonful of food touching her lips? Regardless of your baby’s age, if you see signs telling you she’s not interested in solid foods, simply wait a few days, or even a week, and try again. Mealtime is a learning experience for you and your baby—one that is meant to be fun.
According to Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and co-author of Expecting 411, Baby 411, and Toddler 411, these early feedings are less about quantity and more about getting acquainted with new foods. “For kids under a year of age, breast milk or formula is still the mainstay of nutrition even after you introduce solid foods, so don’t worry if you haven’t gotten to all four food groups at each meal,” says Brown. “Just try to offer a variety of foods.”
How much is enough?
Babies come in all shapes and sizes, and those differences carry over to how much and how often they eat. According to Brown, 6-month-olds typically eat about 2 ounces of solids a day; 7-month-olds eat 4 ounces twice a day; and 8- to 9-month-olds, 4–6 ounces three times a day. While some parents have the urge to measure out these amounts, Dr. Brown says this is seldom necessary. “If a baby is not gaining weight appropriately, then it might be worthwhile, but otherwise it is a waste of time.”
Another time-waster is any attempt to carve out a mealtime schedule. Some babies prefer three meals with two snacks in between, while others prefer smaller meals scattered throughout the day. If you have a picky eater, mealtimes can be stressful—a positive attitude and a calm manner will benefit everyone. “Kids will eat if they’re hungry and have no other choices,” says Charles I. Shubin, M.D., medical director of the Children’s Health Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center. “I promise they won’t starve, but they will test the limits much further than what most adults can tolerate.”
“Most children are able to self-regulate calories until they reach the age of 5—eating when they are hungry and refusing to eat when they are full,” says Heather Russell, R.D., a pediatric registered dietitian at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Paterson, New Jersey. “This is normal and not something parents should worry about unless their child fails to gain weight or grow appropriately.”
Regular checkups are the best way to ensure that your baby is getting enough to eat. Keep in mind that as your baby becomes more mobile and starts crawling and walking, he will gain weight more slowly. For the first six months, your baby will likely gain 1–2 pounds a month. After that, weight gain generally slows to around 1 pound a month.
One sign that your baby may be getting too much to eat is excessive weight gain. Parents should never force a child to eat. If your baby turns her head away from the spoon, try another food instead. And if she flat-out refuses this second attempt, it is likely she is trying to tell you that she is not hungry. Babies who are not hungry will:
- Turn their head away from the food
- Push the spoon away from their mouth
- Lean back in their chair
If you see these signs, take a break, and try again later.
Remember this: Your baby will let you know when she has had enough to eat. Generally, you don’t need to be concerned if, in some instances, more food ends up on the floor than in your baby’s mouth. “Anytime you think your kid isn’t getting enough to eat, just notice the energy level!” says Shubin. “We wish we had that much energy!”
If you have any concerns about your child’s weight and/or eating habits (undereating, overeating, picky eating), you should contact your child’s health care provider.