Introducing solids: why your baby needs them
For the first 4-6 months of life, your baby uses iron stored in his body from when he was in the womb. He also gets iron from your breastmilk and/or infant formula.
As your baby grows, her iron stores go down. This means she needs to get iron and other nutrients from solid food, as well as from breastfeeding and/or infant formula.
Introducing solids is also important for helping your baby learn to eat, giving him experience of new tastes and textures from a range of foods, developing his teeth and jaws, and building other skills that he’ll need later for language development.
Solids don’t replace breastfeeding or infant formula. Your baby needs breastmilk and/or infant formula along with solids until at least 12 months. If solid food replaces breastmilk and/or infant formula too quickly, babies can miss out on important nutrition.
Signs that it’s time for introducing solids
Your baby’s development and behaviour will guide you when you’re trying to work out when to start introducing solids.
Signs your baby is ready for solids include when your baby:
- has good head and neck control and can sit upright when supported
- shows an interest in food – for example, looking at what’s on your plate
- reaches out for your food
- opens her mouth when you offer her food on a spoon.
These signs happen at different times for different babies, but most babies will show signs by around six months.
If your baby is nearing seven months of age and hasn’t started solids, you might like to get some advice from your child and family health nurse or doctor.
Food allergy and introducing solids
Babies with eczema or a family history of allergies are more likely to develop a food allergy or intolerance. But children with no history of allergy can also develop food allergies.
Feeding your baby solids too early – for example, before four months – or too late increases his risk of developing food allergy.
If your baby already has a food allergy, if your family has a history of food allergy, or if you’re worried about reactions to foods, it’s a good idea to get advice from your GP, child and family health nurse or allergist.
How to introduce solids: food timing
When you’re first introducing solids, it’s a good idea to offer solids when you and your baby are both happy and relaxed.
Your baby is also more likely to try solids after a feed of breastmilk or formula. This is because when babies are really hungry, they just want the breastmilk or formula that they know satisfies their hunger first. They’ll still have room to try new foods after they’ve had a breastmilk or formula feed.
As time passes, you’ll learn when your baby is hungry or full, not interested or tired.
Signs of hunger include your baby:
- getting excited when she sees you getting her food ready
- leaning towards you while she’s sitting in the highchair
- opening her mouth as you’re about to feed her.
Signs your baby is no longer interested include:
- turning his head away
- losing interest or getting distracted
- pushing the spoon away
- clamping his mouth shut.
When you’re introducing solids, how much food should you give your baby? Try 1-2 teaspoons of food to start with, and increase to 1-2 tablespoons according to your baby’s appetite.
How to introduce solids: food texture
First foods can be mashed, smoothed, pureed or offered in soft pieces – it’s up to you.
Although you don’t need to puree your baby’s first foods, some foods – for example, meats – are easier for baby to eat if they’re pureed to start with. If you do start with smooth or pureed food, increase the texture to mashed and soft pieces over a couple of weeks.
Try to change the texture of foods in line with your child’s response. Once she’s used to a texture, it’s OK to offer her something with more lumps. Increased texture helps your baby chew and this helps develop the muscles she’ll use later for talking.
When your baby starts on first foods, baby’s spoons, bowls and plates should be clean, but they don’t need to be sterilised.
How to introduce solids: food types
All new foods are exciting for your baby – there’s no need to cook ‘special’ foods.
You can introduce solids in any order, but it’s best to start with and always include foods that are high in iron. Examples are infant rice cereal, cooked vegetables, minced meat or chicken, mashed cooked fish, tofu and peas, beans, lentils and so on.
You can mix first foods together – there’s no need to introduce just one food at a time. But if you’re worried about a family history of food allergies, then you can introduce one new food at a time. This can help with identifying allergic reactions.
Try to offer home-cooked meals and a variety of foods, including:
- vegetables – for example, cooked potato, carrot or beans – and fruit – for example, banana, apple, melon or avocado
- wheat, oats, bread and pasta
- dairy foods like yoghurt and full-fat cheese
- cooked egg, but not raw or runny egg.
Make sure that you offer finger foods like pieces of cooked vegetables and soft bread crusts or toast to encourage chewing and self-feeding. Chewing helps with your baby’s speech development.
It’s a good idea to get your baby on to finger foods by eight months.
Keep breastfeeding or using infant formula until at least 12 months, as well as introducing solids.
It takes time and patience for your baby to learn to eat. If your baby doesn’t like something, try it again some other time. You might have to try lots of times before your baby accepts a new taste or texture.
A common approach to introducing solids
How to introduce solids will vary from family to family and child to child. But if you’re not sure how to start, here’s a common approach.
- Choose a time when you and your baby are calm and relaxed.
- Smooth or mash the food, depending on your preference. There’s no need to puree baby’s foods. If you do start with smooth food, quickly increase the texture to mashed or soft pieces over the next couple of weeks.
- Sit your baby in a highchair, and feed him the food on a spoon.
- Look for signs your baby isn’t interested or is no longer hungry. This tells you she’s had enough.
- Up to 12 months of age, offer your baby cooled boiled water in a cup, especially if the weather is hot. After 12 months, you can offer your baby clean, safe tap water or whole milk, not any other type of drink.
- Introduce different finger foods once your baby is managing mashed food with texture or some soft lumps.
- Offer foods that your baby is interested in – that is, foods that baby is reaching for or looking at (as long as they’re healthy!).
- Give your baby a spoon to practice with as well.
- Talk with your baby about the food he’s eating – what it is, its colour, its taste, where it grows, how you cooked it.
- Offer your baby tastes of what you’re eating to introduce the flavours of your home-cooked meals. This is also a good time for you to think about the foods you eat and make sure you offer healthy foods to your baby.
- Follow your baby’s interest and appetite levels. These might not be the same from day to day and will grow over time. You might offer three meals a day plus snacks, but your baby might not always be interested or need so much.
Introducing solids is about much more than just food! It’s also a great time to talk and listen, as well as bond with each other.
What baby should be eating at 12 months
By 12 months, your baby can eat most of the healthy foods that the rest of your family is eating, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, cereal, meat, fish, chicken, egg, tofu, lentils, pasta, rice and bread.
When it comes to fluids, baby can now also have full-fat cow’s milk from a cup. Try to keep it to around two cups of milk or dairy products a day, including any cheese or yoghurt.
Baby can stop using bottles and can hold a spoon – with varying degrees of success!
Processed foods with high levels of fat, sugar and/or salt – for example, cakes, biscuits, chips, fried foods – aren’t good for babies and children. If you model healthy eating to your baby, this helps set up good eating habits for the rest of her life.
Mealtime mess and play
You can expect your baby’s eating process to be very messy and slow.
This is because eating is a skill that babies have to learn, including how to get food to their mouths.
It’s also because babies explore by touching the texture of new foods. It’s a good idea to encourage your baby to do this because it builds other areas of his development, like fine motor skills and thinking.
If your baby is in a highchair, she might even learn about things like height and depth by dropping things from the chair. But if your baby is dropping all her food, she might not be hungry. It could be time for other play.
Mealtimes are a shared family time. If you can stay calm and patient with your baby’s mess, it’ll help your baby to enjoy mealtimes.
And here’s a tip: you can make cleaning up easier by spreading newspaper or plastic under the highchair and having a washcloth handy.
Always supervise babies and young children when they’re eating solid food.
Sitting with your baby while he’s eating not only prevents choking but also encourages social interaction and helps him learn about eating.
When your baby is ready for solids, she’ll have enough mouth and tongue control to manage soft, smooth or pureed foods. It’s a good idea to avoid hard pieces of food such as raw carrot, whole nuts, or fish and meat with small bones until your baby is at least three years old.
Salt and sugar
Your baby doesn’t need added salt or sugar. If you avoid all salt and sugars, you won’t overwhelm your baby’s delicate palate or get your child used to needing these things to make food tasty.