When to start my baby on solids?
Starting solids is a developmental milestone for your baby. It is recommended starting your baby on solids at around 6 months of age, but not before 4 months of age, as babies are not yet developmentally ready. From 6 months, baby’s nutritional requirements are increasing, so although breastmilk or infant formula remains the main source of nutrition until 12 months, solid foods will also provide important nutrients for your baby.
Signs your baby is ready for solids
All babies are different and will reach developmental milestones in their own time. It is important to look for cues from your baby that they are showing readiness to start solids. These cues include:
- Baby showing an interest in your plate and the food you are eating
- Baby opens mouth when offered a spoon
- Baby’s tongue-extrusion reflex has disappeared – This is an involuntary response which prevents your baby choking when they are not yet capable of swallowing solid food. Baby’s tongue thrusts forward and pushes any food or solid objects out of their mouth.
- Baby can sit upright without support and has good head and neck control
Your baby’s digestive system may not be mature enough to digest solid foods if solids are introduced too early, or there may be an increased risk of choking if your baby is not yet able to sit unsupported. Starting solids too late may mean missing the window of opportunity for texture progression for your baby.
Offer your baby solids when they are alert, comfortable and sitting upright. Avoid offering your baby solids when they are very hungry, distressed or tired, as this creates a less enjoyable experience for yourself and your baby.
Breastmilk or infant formula remains the main source of nutrition during this time and should be offered first.
What foods to start my baby on?
Be sure to let your baby set the pace. This is a new experience for your baby, so it is important to be sensitive to your baby’s cues and let them control how much they eat. Remember, this is a learning curve for both you and your baby, so there will be mess!
Iron-rich foods form an important part of your baby’s first solid foods. Some examples include:
- Pureed meat, fish and poultry
- Cooked tofu and legumes
- Iron-fortified infant cereal
Fruits, vegetables and full fat dairy products can then be added. Under 12 months, cows’ milk is suitable only in small amounts such as in infant cereal, cooking or in dairy products such as full-fat cheese, yoghurt and custard. However, full cream cow's milk should not be consumed as the main drink until 12 months of age.
What order to introduce foods to baby?
Solid foods can be introduced in any order, and at any rate that suits your baby. A slow introduction of solid foods is not necessary. Providing a variety of foods from the five food groups is important for good nutrition, and to help your baby accept a variety of different flavours. Following your baby’s cues will help enable them to develop their own eating behaviours, taste preferences and food choices.
If at first a food is refused, try not to interpret this as your baby not liking a food. Each new food is a new experience for your baby, it can take many tries before they accept a different taste, texture or temperature. Try, and try again, and again and again! Remember to offer food in a non-coercive way, it may help for your baby to see you trying the food too. However, it’s recommended to use your own spoon and bowl, or piece of food. Sharing utensils or food increases the risk of tooth decay via the transmission of oral bacteria from parent to child.
On the flip side, pressuring your baby to eat can cause them to dislike those foods, or mealtimes in general. If a meal is not going well, wrap it up and try again later, or the next day. Your baby will not starve, remember breastmilk or infant formula will still be providing most of their nutrition.
What about introducing Allergenic foods?
There is no need to prolong the introduction of allergenic foods such as eggs, nuts, wheat, dairy and fish, as this does not reduce the risk of developing an allergy. It is best to offer your baby these foods regularly, and before 12 months. Introduce these foods in small amounts to begin with, and gradually increasing the amount if your baby has no reaction.
Ways to introduce allergenic foods to your baby include a no added salt nut butter on toast or offering well-cooked scrambled eggs.
Do not rub food on your baby’s skin as it will not help to identify the possibility of an allergy. If you are concerned about your baby having a possible food allergy, you can start by rubbing a bit of food on the inside of your child’s lip. If there is no reaction after a few minutes, you can then offer your baby a small amount.
What texture should they be?
There are two main approaches when introducing solids. The first is to start with pureed textures, and to gradually progress with textures to reach soft finger foods. By the time your baby turns one they should be starting to eat family foods, which may be modified to meet your baby’s ability.
Alternatively, you may find the baby led weaning approach more your style. BLW is weaning your baby onto solid foods, by allowing your baby to feed themselves with finger foods. This allows your baby to develop skills such as picking up food and bringing it to their mouth. Typically, babies are developmentally ready to start feeding themselves around 6 months of age, however this approach is not appropriate for babies with developmental delays, digestive problems or babies who are not showing signs of readiness.
When choosing how to introduce solids, it is best to choose what best suits you, your baby, and your family. Many families choose to do a combined approach of both methods.
Are there any foods I shouldn’t give my baby?
Sugar, honey or salt should not be added to solid foods. Avoid offering juices and sugar sweetened drinks to your baby. Small, hard pieces of food should be avoided, such as raw carrot or raw apple. Instead, steam, mash or grate foods to soften. Chopped or whole nuts should not be offered to your baby, but can be offered through nut butters, pastes or flours.
Remember, introducing solids is not just about providing extra nutrition, it is equally about your baby developing new skills and being exposed to different tastes, textures and flavours.
For more information regarding the introduction of solid foods, refer to Eat for health infant feeding guidelines, or see your GP or dietitian.
Article written by Accredited Dietitian, Amy Stratford.