This article is currently under expert review to take into account new research, as well as the new Australian Dietary Guidelines. A revised article will be available soon.
Why your baby needs solids
At six months, your baby will start to need iron and other nutrients from solid food. Until that age, babies are able to use iron stored in their bodies while they were still in the womb. They also get iron from breastmilk and formula.
By around six months, babies’ appetites are more difficult to satisfy with breastmilk or formula alone. Babies are also ready to experience new tastes and textures. Starting on solids at around this age will help your baby with developing teeth and jaws. Solids are about learning to eat, which is why they’re not introduced by bottle.
Starting solids doesn’t mean replacing breastfeeding. In fact, researchers say it’s best for your baby to keep breastfeeding along with eating solids until at least 12 months.
Signs baby is ready for solids
Although it’s likely that your baby will be ready to try solids at around six months, all babies are different. Some want to start a bit later. That’s OK, so long as there isn’t too much of a delay. If your baby is nearing seven months of age and hasn’t started solids, you might like to seek advice from your doctor.
Otherwise, it’s best to wait for visible cues from your baby. These include:
- showing an interest in food, including what’s on your plate – babies might also start putting their fingers in their mouths
- an increased appetite for breastfeeds or formula
- opening mouth when food is offered on a spoon
- good head and neck control, and the ability to sit upright when supported.
If you give solids to babies before they are ready, they might get tummy troubles or develop food allergies. If solid food completely replaces breastmilk or formula too quickly, babies can become malnourished.
If your family has a history of any allergies, seek advice about the best way to introduce your baby to solids and new foods. Read more about food allergies and intolerances
How to introduce solids
Here are some ideas to get you and baby started:
Start with a single food. Infant rice cereal is a good option.
Start with a teaspoon of the food you’ve chosen, just once a day. Increase the amount by a teaspoon each day until your baby is eating a maximum of two tablespoons.
- Once baby is eating two tablespoons, you can offer solid food twice a day. The consistency of the solid can be thickened slightly as your baby eats more.
- Most babies will not have any problems with new foods, but watch for signs of intolerance or allergic reactions such as vomiting, diarrhoea or rashes. Note that these don’t always show up straight away.
- When you introduce different foods, try each one for about four days. Again watch for signs of intolerance. Going slowly with each new food will give your baby a chance to get used to different tastes and textures.
- If your baby doesn’t like something, try it again some other time.
When you’re first introducing solids, your baby is more likely to try them after a drink. Give your baby a feed of breastmilk or formula first, then solids. This is because when babies are really hungry, they’ll just want to go straight to the breastmilk or formula that they knows satisfies their hunger.
Which foods when?
Food is exciting for your baby – there’s no need to cook a huge range. The food just needs to be smooth and pureed.
At six months or so, start with a teaspoon of infant rice cereal (it’s bland, which is good for your baby’s first taste of food, and full of iron) or potato. You can mix these with water or breastmilk or formula. Mixing these solids with the breastmilk or formula your baby is used to will mean it also tastes vaguely familiar, which might help.
From 6-8 months, you can introduce your baby to:
- vegetables – potato, pumpkin, carrot
- fruit – mashed banana, cooked and mashed apple or pear
- meat – cooked and pureed meats and chicken
- toast fingers and sugarless rusks.
At around eight months, babies are able to ‘chew’ their gums, which means they’re ready for food that is coarsely mashed or minced. Your baby will also be ready for finger foods, which encourage self-feeding. Try foods such as:
- ground-up meats and chicken
- well-cooked fish
- whole rice, couscous and pasta
- cheese (pasteurised) and yoghurt
- a little cow’s milk – you can add this to cereal or food such as custard.
As your child gets used to eating solids, you can switch to offering solids first and a drink second.
By 12 months, your baby:
- will be able to eat chopped-up foods, including meat
- can try most foods that the rest of the family is eating (make sure all food is carefully chopped)
- can have full fat cow’s milk as the main drink. Try to keep it under 600 ml a day (less if your child is still breastfeeding or eating a lot of cheese or yoghurt)
- can have honey.
- can hold a spoon – with varying degrees of success!
Coping with mess
You can expect the eating process to be very messy and slow. Eating is a skill that babies have to learn, including how to get food to their mouths. Your baby might also want to touch and test the texture of new foods.
Try to stay calm and patient with your baby’s mess with solids. This will also help your baby learn that mealtimes are a time to relax. Spreading newspaper or plastic under the highchair can make cleaning up easier. Have a washcloth handy.
Table manners aren’t going to come just yet. But if you eat at least one meal a day together as a family, your baby will learn from seeing how you all behave at the table.
Once babies are six months old, they have enough tongue control to avoid choking on soft, smooth or pureed foods. But pieces of raw carrot and apple, fish or meat with small bones, and popcorn are hazards until children have all their teeth. Wait until your child is at least two and a half years old before introducing these foods.
Nuts and boiled lollies are a choking hazard until your child is about five years old.
Getting your toddler to sit while eating and always watching while your child is eating are the two most important things you can do to prevent choking. Read more about how to prevent choking.
Salt, seasonings and sweeteners
The longer you can avoid salt and sugar the better for your child. If you avoid all salt, seasonings and sweeteners, you won’t overwhelm your baby’s delicate palate (or get your child used to needing these things to make food tasty).
Food reactions in babies
In this short video, parents and experts talk about about food reactions and allergies in babies. The video also includes information about reflux and lactose intolerance.
Paediatrican Dr Con James notes that many babies have some reflux – that is, they spit up some breastmilk or formula. In most cases, this is quite normal. If your baby is happy and thriving, there’s probably no need to treat it. In some cases, it’s the sign of a more serious condition that needs medical attention. If you’re worried, talk to your GP or child health nurse.