The aim of the present study was to assess the factors which may influence the timing of the introduction of solid food to infants. The design was a prospective cohort study by interview and postal questionnaire. Primiparous women (n 541) aged between 16 and 40 years were approached in the Forth Park Maternity Hospital, Fife, Scotland. Of these, 526 women agreed to participate and seventy-eight were used as subjects in the pilot study. At 12 weeks we interviewed 338 women of the study sample. The postal questionnaire was returned by 286 of 448 volunteers. At 12 weeks 133 of 338 mothers said that they had introduced solids. Those that said that they had introduced solids early (>12 weeks) were compared with those who had introduced solids late (<12 weeks) by bivariate and multiple regression analysis. Psychosocial factors influencing the decision were measured with the main outcome measure being the time of introduction of solid food. The early introduction of solids was found to be associated with: the opinions of the infant's maternal grandmother; living in a deprived area; personal disagreement with the advice to wait until the baby was 4 months; lack of encouragement from friends to wait until the baby was 4 months; being in receipt of free samples of manufactured food. Answers to open-ended questions indicated that the early introduction appeared to be influenced by the mothers' perceptions of the baby's needs. Some of the factors influencing a woman's decision to introduce solids are amenable to change, and these could be targeted in educational interventions.