Around the age of 6 months, a baby’s nutritional needs change and milk is no longer sufficient.
Around the age of 6 months, babies start to have greater energy requirements and nutritional needs. This is the time to introduce solid or complementary foods into their diet—that is, foods other than breast milk or formula.
When should you introduce complementary foods?
Cereal doesn’t help babies sleep through the night
If your baby is sleeping through the night, it’s not because they’re having cereal for dinner. Sleep duration doesn’t depend on diet, but rather on your child’s temperament, maturity, age, and environment.
Milk meets the nutritional needs of most babies until about the age of 6 months. This is why 6 months is the recommended age for introducing complementary foods.
Since babies grow at different rates and have different needs, some may need to start eating solids before 6 months. Some health care professionals therefore advise introducing complementary foods between 4 and 6 months.
That said, complementary foods should not be introduced before 4 months, as this can be harmful to a baby’s health. At this age, infants aren’t developmentally ready to eat foods other than milk or formula, for several reasons:
Their saliva production is insufficient
They don’t have enough enzymes to digest food
Their kidneys aren’t able to tolerate large amounts of protein
Their immune systems are still immature, which increases their risk of developing food allergies
Solid foods should be introduced as soon as possible around the age of 6 months, by which time a child’s digestive and immune systems are sufficiently developed. At this age, children need to transition to solid foods to meet their growing needs. They’ll have a harder time getting used to solids once they pass the 6-month mark, so this is also an important time for acquiring a taste for food and its different textures.
Breast milk and infant formula
Breast milk or formula should make up the majority of your child’s diet until age 1. Food should not interfere with their appetite for either one.
Signs that your baby is ready to start eating complementary foods
Although introducing solids early has certain benefits in terms of food allergy prevention, not all 4-month-olds are physically ready to eat complementary foods. They’re also not all capable of communicating their needs.
When is the right time to give your baby complementary foods?
Make sure that all of the following signs are present before offering complementary foods to your 4-to-6-month-old:
- Their appetite is no longer satisfied by breast milk or formula. This may be the case if your baby has wanted to be fed more often for more than 5 days in a row and if they still seem hungry despite emptying both breasts 8–10 times within a 24-hour period or drinking more than 1.1 L (40 oz.) a day from a bottle.
- They can sit up unassisted and are able to lean forward.
- They’re able to bring food or objects to their mouth and try to chew.
- They can hold their head up and have enough control to turn it and shake their head no.
- They’re able to push away objects they no longer want. This shows that they can push away a spoon to tell you they’re full.
- They show interest in food.
Varying interest in food
Some babies will constantly eye the food on their parents’ plates before they’re even 6 months old, while others will remain uninterested past the age of 7 months. Interest in complementary foods varies greatly from child to child.
If your baby isn’t interested in food, encourage them to eat foods other than milk. Sit with them at the table and place food in front of them so they can see, touch, and smell it. It also helps to eat with your baby so that they want to imitate you.
When to give complementary foods to a premature baby
For premature babies, complementary foods should be introduced in the same way as for full-term babies. However, you should use their corrected age, which is the age they would be if they had been born at full term. For example, if you give birth at 32 weeks on January 1, your child will be 6 months old on July 1; however, their corrected age at this time will be only 4 months, since your expected delivery date was at the end of February (8 weeks later). That means you should wait until around September to start introducing complementary foods, unless your child is displaying several of the signs described above and their doctor or nutritionist agrees.
Introducing solids: Iron-rich foods
It’s recommended to start with iron-fortified baby cereals and proteins (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, and tofu), as studies have shown that 6-month-olds have increased iron requirements. Although meat is the best source of iron, a vegetarian diet can also meet your baby’s iron needs.
Once your child is eating iron-rich foods twice a day, you can introduce other foods (fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy) to diversify their diet.
From this point on, try to include a fruit or vegetable rich in vitamin C (e.g., strawberries, oranges, broccoli, bell peppers) with meals that contain grains, legumes, or tofu. This vitamin promotes the absorption of iron from plant foods, which is particularly important for vegetarian babies. Here are three more key guidelines to keep in mind:
- Give your baby only one new food at a time, during a meal or a snack.
- Don’t mix new foods with other foods. That way, your child can get used to them separately.
- Feed your child a variety of nutritious foods.
What should you feed a 4-to-6-month-old?
If you choose to introduce solids between the ages of 4 and 6 months, start with puréed foods, as your baby isn’t quite ready for chewing. This is why it’s not recommended to start self-feeding before 6 months.
How to introduce complementary foods
Starting to eat complementary foods is an important step for a baby. You should make sure your little one is well rested, in a good mood, and not sick with a cold or any other health issue when you introduce these foods to their diet.
Some experts recommend that parents continue giving their child breast milk or formula until about 7 months before transitioning to solid foods. Others believe you can breast- or bottle-feed your child before or after solid meals, or do half and half.
Follow your baby’s lead when deciding whether to give them milk or complementary foods first. The important thing is that consuming solid foods should not reduce the amount of breast milk or formula they drink.
Until your child is at least 1 year old, you should feed them when they signal that they’re hungry. From then on, you should gradually introduce a meal and snack schedule.
Continue to give your child baby cereal until age 2, since it’s a good source of iron. If they won’t eat cereal with a bowl and spoon, incorporate it into muffin, pancake, or cookie recipes.
When to introduce new foods
If you want, you can introduce one new food, or even more than one, every day. However, wait until your baby is 9 months old, ideally 12 months, before giving them cow’s milk or fortified soy beverages, as calcium in high quantities decreases iron absorption.
There’s no need to space out the introduction of new foods. Studies have shown that waiting two or three days has no impact on food allergies. By skipping this unnecessary waiting period, you’ll introduce your baby to new foods faster, which will help develop their flavour preferences.
Babies often need a few days to learn to enjoy new foods, so don’t be surprised if it takes your child a little (or a lot) longer to develop a liking for certain things. Continue to offer these foods to them regularly, but never force them to taste or eat anything.
If your child still refuses to eat a certain food after several tries, stop serving it for a while. They might be willing to try it in a few weeks.
How much food to give your baby
To introduce solid foods, start with small amounts, meaning about a teaspoon. You can then gradually increase the amount according to how much your baby wants. It’s difficult to suggest specific quantities since every child is unique.
Pay attention to your baby’s hunger cues and let them guide you. Start by giving your little one solids once or twice a day. For example, you can give them iron-fortified baby cereal for breakfast and meat or tofu for lunch.
After a few weeks, your baby might be able to have two or three meals a day. For example, they might have cereal and fruit for breakfast, meat or tofu and vegetables for lunch, and fish and vegetables for dinner, depending on how hungry they are.
By 7 to 8 months, their meals should be more regular and incorporate more foods. You might give them fruit, vegetables, and legumes for lunch, for instance, and then cereal, fruit or vegetables, and cheese or yogurt for dinner. Serve equal amounts of each food to create a balanced plate (in French), but let your child decide how much to eat. You can also give them snacks if they have the appetite.
Keep in mind that these baby menus are only examples. Feel free to adapt the meals to your child’s appetite and your family’s habits.
First thing in the morning
Iron-fortified baby cereal
Iron-fortified baby cereal
Iron-fortified baby cereal
Iron-fortified baby cereal
Iron-fortified baby cereal or protein food
Unsweetened oat rings or another cereal product
Dairy product depending on appetite
Iron-fortified baby cereal
Iron-fortified baby cereal or protein food
Fruit and/or plain yogurt
*Six months or earlier if introduced between 4 and 6 months.
**The term “breast milk” has been used to simplify the menu. It can also refer to infant formula.
Several studies have shown that introducing allergens at a later age does not prevent a child from developing food allergies. In fact, the opposite may be true, because this practice is linked to a greater risk of developing allergies.
Therefore, experts no longer recommend waiting to introduce these foods, even for children who are at risk of developing allergies (i.e., those with a parent or sibling with a food allergy, or babies who have eczema or asthma). Giving these children allergenic foods early, between the ages of 4 and 6 months, may actually protect them better.
To learn about the main allergens and the symptoms of a food allergy, read our fact sheet on food allergies (in French) in children.
At first, you can introduce your baby to meals in the form of smooth purées. Some babies also take fairly quickly to foods that are simply mashed with a fork, and others will eat foods that are finely chopped or cut into small chunks very early on.
It’s important to introduce new textures to your child’s diet to provide stimulation and help your little one develop their eating skills. Even if they don’t have teeth yet, they can still chew with their gums.
Avoid spending more than a few weeks on the same texture. Your baby needs to be exposed to different types of food. Otherwise, they may become fussy eaters and have trouble eating normally as they get older.
When trying a new food, your baby may gag, as if they’re about to throw up. They may also cough and spit out the food. This is a normal reflex to prevent choking.
As soon as your child is able to put food in their mouth, encourage them to pick up small pieces of soft food with their fingers, such as well-cooked vegetables, ripe fruit, or O-shaped cereal. They might even eat it without any prompting.
In addition to promoting autonomy, eating with their fingers helps your child develop their fine motor skills. Between 9 and 12 months of age, your baby will eat almost anything if it’s cut into small pieces.
Some parents choose not to give their baby puréed foods. Instead, they give them pieces of soft food that they can pick up and bring to their mouth on their own. This is called self-feeding or baby-led weaning (BLW). Parents who choose this approach should wait until their child is 6 months old before giving them complementary foods. For more information, see our fact sheet on baby-led weaning
How to prevent choking
Foods that are the same width as a child’s esophagus can get stuck in their throat and block the trachea. Before age 4, avoid giving your child small, hard, round foods to prevent the risk of choking.
Foods to avoid include peanuts, nuts, raisins (unless they’ve been rehydrated, like in a muffin), whole grapes, sausage slices, raw carrots and celery, foods on toothpicks, string cheese (unless shredded), and popcorn.
Consult our fact sheet on choking (in French) for more information.
Baby feeders, which have mesh or silicone pouches that hold pieces of solid food, are increasingly popular. Your baby sucks or chews on the pouch to get their food, which is generally soft or mashed. Baby feeders can be a handy way to introduce your baby to fruits and vegetables without having to make your own purées. However, they aren’t a necessity.
As early as 6 months, you can start giving your baby large pieces of food to help them develop their dexterity, coordination, and chewing skills. Whole pieces of fruit also contain more fibre.
Regardless of your feeding approach, it’s important to stay close to your baby during meals to prevent choking. A baby can choke even if they’re eating from a feeder.
What to do if your child refuses to eat something
If your little one refuses to eat a certain food, don’t try to force them. Children learn about food using all five senses. They may need to look at it, smell it, and touch it over a span of weeks or months before they’re willing to try it. If you insist or force your child to try something, they will associate the food with a negative experience and be more likely to continue avoiding it.
If your child refuses to eat a certain food, offer it to them again a few weeks later. Continue to serve it even if they reject it three or four times. It may take 15 to 20 tries for them to develop a taste for a new food.
There’s also no need to worry if your child’s appetite varies a lot—for example, if they refuse to eat one day and devour everything on their plate the next. Trust that they instinctively know what their body needs. If they’re grabbing at the spoon and their food, they’re telling you that they’re hungry. If they close their mouth, turn their head away, play with their food, sulk, or cry, they’re telling you that they’ve had enough.
During and after eating, be sure to give your child water if they’re thirsty. It can help with chewing and swallowing, as well as keep them hydrated. You can also give them small amounts of water throughout the day.
Things to keep in mind
By 6 months of age, a baby is physically ready to eat complementary foods. Some babies are ready earlier, but complementary foods should never be introduced before 4 months.
Exposing children to a variety of foods as soon as they start eating helps to meet their nutritional needs and develop their tastes.
To prevent choking, only offer foods that are a safe shape, size, and texture, and stay with your baby while they’re eating.
Scientific review: Stéphanie Côté, M.Sc., nutritionist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: November 2022
Photos: GettyImages/StockerThings and Yummy pic
Sources and references
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
Côté, Stéphanie. Bébés : 21 jours de menus. Montreal, Éditions Modus Vivendi, 2019, 216 pp.
Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff.From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec. inspq.qc.ca
- Lambert-Lagacé, Louise. Comment nourrir son enfant : du lait maternel au repas complet. Montreal, Les Éditions de l’Homme, 2015, 344 pp.
- Regimbal, Nathalie, and Manon Valade. Du plaisir à bien manger :80 recettes gagnantes pour les familles. Boucherville, Éditions Viséo, 2006, 96 pp.
- Health Canada. “Canada’s food guide.” 2022. food-guide.canada.ca
Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Feeding your baby in the first year.” 2020. www.caringforkids.cps.ca
Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Healthy eating for children.” 2020. www.caringforkids.cps.ca
Canadian Paediatric Society. Practice point. “Nutrition for healthy term infants, six to 24 months: An overview.” 2020. cps.ca
Canadian Paediatric Society. Position paper. “Dietary exposures and allergy prevention in high-risk infants.” 2021. cps.ca