Milk has been the staple diet of babies since they were born. It is complete with all the nutrition they need to thrive. As they continue to grow, their needs change and so do their appetite. Other sources of nutrients are introduced to babies to complement milk, not replace it. It may be in the form of supplemental vitamins or something else. This is where solid food comes in.

It’s so much fun to watch babies eat, even though they’re messy at it. But before setting up your videocam to record baby’s first bite, here are the 3 W’s you need to consider:

WHEN

Your baby will give you clues when he is ready to try some real food. When milk– be it breast or formula– doesn’t seem to satisfy his hunger anymore, it means he is going through a growth spurt or he needs more complex food. Showing interest as he watches you put strange things in your mouth is a sign that your baby may be ready. Reaching for food, chewing on his hands and toys, or opening his mouth (even leaning over) upon an approaching spoonful of food are also indicators.

There is no definite age as to when you must start giving your child solid food. The modern parenting practice is to follow the baby’s instinct. It used to be written in books that babies need solid food by 3 months. Now, the average age is between 4-6 months. Most doctors recommend solid food introduction when the baby is close to 6 months or older, although some say that babies can live on milk alone up until 12 months. Only your little one can tell if he is ready to take on solid food—which is actually more of a puree.

Aside from filling up the tummy, solid food introduction also trains the baby in handling different tastes and textures in his mouth, as well as chewing and swallowing. You know your baby is ready for his first bite when he loses his tongue-thrust reflex. That is when the baby stops pushing food out of his mouth, which was the instinctive choking prevention reflex babies were born with.

WHAT

Babies are often offered rice cereal as their first solid food. It is easily digested by their system and less likely to cause allergies. Start by giving him a runny mixture and slowly build it up to a thicker consistency. Never put cereal in a bottle unless the doctor recommends it.

Parents can go overboard by buying four seasons worth of fruits and vegetables to mash and puree for their babies to try. Some food may cause allergic reactions to your baby especially if you have a family history of allergies. So, it is recommended to keep track of your baby’s intake by introducing one food item at a time. Let your baby eat, say, bananas for 3-5 days before moving on to another food item.

You may go ahead and add breastmilk or formula together with baby food to keep the taste familiar. Always check his food for large chunks that may cause choking. Serve it with a coated spoon to protect his delicate gums. Do not be afraid to let your baby try different tastes and textures of food, as this helps in building his foundation for food preference as he grows up. Unfortunately, some foods are not recommended for babies below age one like honey and egg white. Be sure to get a ‘go signal’ from your baby’s pediatrician before offering iffy types of food.

WHERE

Baby’s first feedings can be done sitting on your lap or his infant seat. He doesn’t have to sit on his high chair if it’s still too big for him. What you need to know is that your baby needs to be able to have good head control and is able to sit up with support before giving solid food a go. This is important because the food needs to travel from his mouth to his stomach, and further on in a downward direction.

You can start giving your baby one serving of solid food daily, at the time most convenient to you. It would be nice to do it at the dining table while you’re eating so he can mimic your actions for better eating habits in the future.

At this stage, solid food introduction is meant for just that—to practice and prepare your baby for a full-time solid food diet. Your baby may be eager to eat food one day but might not show any interest the next. It’s okay if that happens, you can try again next time. Your baby’s major diet still has to be milk up until his first birthday. Until then, let him enjoy his purees and mashed up meals as you record the priceless funny faces he makes.