Introducing Solids To A Formula Fed Baby

Introducing Solids To A Formula Fed Baby

Introducing solids is an exciting time in a baby’s – and caregiver’s – life! Up until this point, your baby has been completely sustained by the vital components in formula (go, science!), but you’re thinking that times are ready to change.

How to Recognize It’s Time

Current recommendations state that the best time to introduce solids or “complementary foods” to baby is between 4 and 6 months. Actually, closer to four months is associated with fewer food allergies. But babies progress and mature on a continuum and this 4-to-6 window appreciates those individual differences.

So, because there is not some magical ticking clock inside your baby’s tummy that alarms right on the morning of his 6-month birthday, it’s important to recognize some other feeding behaviors that may tell you it’s time.

While developments like assisted sitting and interest in, or grabbing at, foods can help caregivers understand when baby might be ready for solids, intake and satisfaction after eating is a tell-tale sign.

Formula fed babies *tend to* follow a pretty predictable curve for their formula intake. They start life at 1-ounce feedings every few hours, increase to 2 ounces by a week or so of life, and go on to add half-an-ounce to an ounce to their feeding size with each subsequent week. As their feeding size increases, feedings become more spaced out (every four hours all day) and overnight feedings start to decrease.

What we *tend to* see (I speak in no absolutes regarding infant feeding) is babies “top out” at around 28 to 32 ounces in a 24-hour period. And by three or so months of age, these 28 to 32 ounces are being consumed entirely during the daytime and overnight feedings have stopped. For many babies at this age these are 6 to 8-ounce feedings, four to five times per day, from morning until bedtime (e.g. 8:00 am wakes up and eats a 7-ounce bottle, 12:00 noon eats a 7-ounce bottle, 4:00 pm eats a 7-ounce bottle, 8:00 pm eats a 7-ounce bottle and goes to bed).

And at three to four-months-old we see babies relatively content with this strictly liquid diet wherein each feeding is a larger amount (6+ ounces) and the feedings are well spread out (4 hours apart all day and farther apart at night).

But then something starts to happen: they grow discontent.

Your four or five-month-old who was previously guzzling 7 to 8-ounce bottles, napping, and rarely waking at night is now fussier, waking more frequently, and/or appears less satisfied and content after feedings.

It is not advised – and we do not advise – feeding more than 30 to 32 ounces of formula in a 24-hour period. That amount of formula (and less than that) has everything your baby should need while he is still on a strictly liquid diet. If your baby is consuming this much and still not nutritionally satisfied – it’s high time to consider adding to his diet. Likewise, if your baby will only drink 6 to 7-ounce bottles and is consuming, say, 28 ounces in a 24-hour period and is now no longer content with this, broaden your horizons.

[My third daughter refused, REFUSED!, to EVER drink more than 6-ounces in one sitting. Nonetheless, she required the addition of complementary foods at around 4.5 months.]

Like many things that we write about and consult regarding, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to “when.” It will require reading your baby and following her cues. Do not allow yourself to be pigeonholed into a set “start date,” because you could very well have to endure a very fussy baby waiting for that arbitrary, fixed date. Be open. Be flexible.

Where To Start

There are many approaches to introducing solids/complementary foods and we hold no profound opinions on which way is “best.” However, for purposes of this post, I will write about a more traditional approach, which is spoon-feeding complementary foods intended for babies – cereal, oatmeal, porridge, and pureed fruits, veggies, and meats.

While infant cereal (single grain white rice or whole grain) and oatmeal don’t add much nutrition to your baby’s diet, they are often used, intentionally, for their blandness. They also contain very few ingredients, which means they’re unlikely to cause an intolerance or allergic reaction. Additionally, they can be prepared to a consistency that is helpful when teaching baby how to spoon-feed.

I always introduced infant cereal via spoon to my kids during their evening bath time. They were calm and relaxed during bath, and the baby bathtub already reclined them back a bit. They had fun “meeting” the spoon here and when they made a mess and spit some cereal out, it all washed away down the drain 😉 Once the spoon was mastered I would begin spoon feeding in a bouncy seat or highchair.

You can start with any type of baby food you would like, but we recommend starting out at 1 to 2 solid feedings per day. Often these accompany the first morning bottle and/or the last bottle of the night. If you start with just one solid feeding per day, we recommend you make it the last feeding before bed.

Eventually, solids will be offered three times per day (e.g. breakfast, lunch, and dinner).

If Baby Has An Intolerance or Allergies

If your baby is on an extensively hydrolyzed or elemental formula due to single or multiple food protein allergies, you need to be mindful when selecting which complimentary food to begin with. Many rice cereals and oatmeals do not contain soy but DO contain dairy. If dairy is an issue for your baby, foregoing these foods and feeding fruits, veggies, or meats may be a better choice.

Formula Remains Most Important

You will start with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the food of your choice per solid feeding and work your way up from there. Your baby will promptly let you know how much more (or less) she desires. Just ride with it.

During all of this, formula remains most important. Baby’s formula is the catch all for everything she needs to grow and thrive. The complementary foods are just that – complementary and in addition to.

The best way to ensure that formula stays top dog is to feed baby all, or nearly all, of his bottle first, before beginning to spoon-feed solids. I like to feed the majority of formula, feed solids, and leave an ounce or so for baby to finish up with when solids are done.

NOTE: Feeding nearly all of the bottle before giving solids is especially important for babies with reflux or GERD. We find that they do much better with digestion when the bottle (liquid) is fed first and solids follow.

It is not uncommon for formula intake to drop a little (a few ounces total) when solids are introduced (and remember that you’re often mixing cereal or oatmeal with formula, so that counts too!). Baby will often work back up to his previous amount after a few weeks.

We tend to see babies become much more content and satisfied, often resting longer, when their signs that it’s time to begin solids are recognized and needs are met.

Sample Solid Feeding Schedules


One Solid Feeding Per Day

8:00 am: 7-ounce bottle

12:00 noon: 7-ounce bottle

4:00 pm: 7-ounce bottle

8:00 pm: 6-ounce bottle, 2 tablespoons of cereal made using 1-ounce of formula


Two Solid Feedings Per Day

8:00 am: 6-ounce bottle, 2 tablespoons of cereal made using 1-ounce of formula, and 1 tablespoon fruit

12:00 noon: 7-ounce bottle

4:00 pm: 7-ounce bottle

8:00 pm: 6-ounce bottle, 2 tablespoons of cereal made using 1-ounce of formula


Three Solid Feedings Per Day

8:00 am: 6-ounce bottle, 2 tablespoons of cereal made using 1-ounce of formula, and ½ jar fruit

12:00 noon: 7-ounce bottle, ½ jar of fruit, ½ jar veggie or meat

4:00 pm: 6-ounce bottle, 2 tablespoons of cereal made using 1-ounce of formula, and ½ jar veggie or meat

8:00 pm: 7-ounce bottle

Questions about how and when to introduce solids to your baby? Struggling with sleep issues even though baby seems to be nutritionally satisfied? Contact us today!

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