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When do babies start eating solid foods?

Most babies are ready to start solids between the ages of 4 and 6 months, though experts recommend waiting until closer to 6 months in many cases. Your little one's development will play a part in determining when it’s time for her to graduate to a more varied diet.

Though you might be eager to hop on the feeding bandwagon sooner rather than later, there are plenty of reasons why starting a baby on solids too soon isn't smart.

First, a very young baby's digestive system is not developmentally ready for solids. Young babies tend to involuntarily reject any foreign substances placed in their mouths, and they lack some critical enzymes that help break down food.

Plus, solids aren't necessary early on — babies can meet all their nutritional needs for the first six months of life with breast milk, formula or a combination of the two.

Bringing on the solids prematurely can also undermine future eating habits — your baby may initially reject those spoonfuls simply because she isn't ready, and then turn her nose up again later because of previous parental pushing. And introducing solids too soon can lead to obesity later in childhood, especially in formula-fed babies.

On the other hand, waiting too long to offer solid food — until 9 months or later — can also lead to potential pitfalls. An older baby may resist trying the challenging, new tricks of chewing and swallowing solids, preferring to cling to breastfeeding or bottle-feeding (which are easier, more familiar ways to eat). And, like habits, tastes can be harder to change at this point. Unlike a more adaptable younger baby, an older baby may not be as open to solids when milky liquids have been monopolizing the menu.

Some parents choose to adopt an approach called baby-led weaning, which bypasses pureed solids in favor of foods served in thick, long pieces that younger babies can hold in their fists and gnaw on (whether or not they have any teeth yet).

If you're trying baby-led weaning, you'll want to wait until around the 6-month mark to start solids, when baby is able to grasp a food and bring it to her mouth, as well as hold and gum the kinds of foods you’ll be offering. Just remember that it will be a few months until she's able to make the leap to finger foods requiring the pincer grasp, which usually develops around month 8.

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