A baby smiles in their feeding chair while reaching for veggies.
As you introduce your little one to solid foods, start with items that aren’t particularly sweet—think veggies—and then work up to fruits and berries. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

At what age can babies start eating solid food?

“Most can start as early as 4 months, depending on their developmental stage,” said Kara Willoughby, MD, a pediatrician with Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

A baby’s progress is determined mainly by developmental milestones, Dr. Willoughby said.

The head and neck need to be strong enough to safely coordinate the baby’s ability to swallow.

“I look for solid head control—being able to hold their head upright while in a seated position and turn it both ways,” Dr. Willoughby said. “Also, being able to push to straight arms during tummy time is a good marker they have the upper body strength to start to work on a swallow.”

As babies make their first forays into solid foods, they should start with vegetables, with less-sweet food items added before gradually transitioning into sweeter items such as fruits.

“If babies start with sweet fruits, they develop a preference and never want to try the vegetables,” Dr. Willoughby said.

Start with green beans and peas, for instance, then add squashes, sweet potatoes and carrots—all the healthy orange veggies.

Later, work in pears, apples and bananas.

“Avocados are always a great food to start with because they are packed full of nutrients,” Dr. Willoughby said. “(Rice or oatmeal) cereals are great as well and are fortified with iron.”

It doesn’t matter if you start with store-bought solids or homemade solids, but if you want to make foods at home you should keep in mind some important guidelines.

“If you make it yourself, try to avoid seasonings and additives such as salt, sugar and butter,” Dr. Willoughby said. “Work on developing simple tastes.”

Even as your little one starts on solid foods, you should continue breastfeeding.

Breast milk and formula are important in a baby’s nutrition, as these items provide essential fat, calcium and other vitamins and minerals needed by a baby’s growing body.

“Breast milk is going to continue to provide your baby with essential nutrients, in addition to immunity and germ-fighting power,” the doctor said. “When introducing solid foods, breast milk or formula should still be your child’s main source of calories and nutrients.”

Infants should consume approximately 24 ounces of breast milk or formula a day, up to and even beyond age 1.

“Their appetites may become smaller as they grow less quickly during this time and as their diet is supplemented with solid foods,” Dr. Willoughby said.

Mealtime should be accompanied by a full cup of liquid. After age 1, most babies switch to whole milk. They should drink about 24 ounces of this each day, the doctor said.