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close up of a mother feeding her baby complementary foods

To ensure that a breastfeed infant’s nutritional needs are met, parents and caregivers should add complementary foods around six months of age. Complementary foods are foods other than breast milk introduced to an infant. Although most calories will continue to come from breastmilk until 12 months, complementary solid foods are introduced to provide essential nutrients. Some examples of complementary solid foods include

  • well-cooked and pureed meat, poultry, or beans
  • ground, cooked, single-grain cereal, or infant cereal, with breast milk
  • cooked and pureed vegetables
  • mashed bananas

This transition is commonly known as complementary feeding. Delaying the introduction of complementary foods could result in nutritional deficiencies or developmental delays. It can also be difficult for infants to accept different foods and textures, leading them to become selective in their diet.

Watch for Signs

Watch the baby for signs. A breastfed infant is ready for complementary foods when the infant

  • has good neck and head control
  • sits up, alone or with help
  • reaches out for food
  • transfers food from the front to the back of the tongue to swallow without gagging, coughing, or choking
  • swallows food rather than pushing it back out

Starting Solids

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, iron-zinc fortified foods are recommended as first solid foods for exclusively breastfed babies. Start with 1 to 2 teaspoons of a single ingredient food like baby cereal and pureed bananas. Then wait three to five days before starting another new food. After each new food, watch for any reactions, such as diarrhea, rash, or vomiting. If you think your baby is having a reaction to the new food, stop feeding the food and talk to the baby’s pediatrician. If your baby does well with the new foods, you can offer them in combination and you give foods such as pureed vegetables, fruits, beans, and meat. Avoid foods that may cause choking and foods high in salts and sugars.

Finally, remember each infant develops at different rates, and not all are ready for foods at six months. An infant’s weight or age alone does not determine readiness for complementary foods. Some babies may have been born prematurely, or with medical problems and may need to wait to add solids. Parents should talk with the baby’s doctor about the best time to start complementary foods.