Introducing solids: why babies need them
For about the first six months of life, babies use iron stored in their bodies from when they were in the womb. They also get some iron from breastmilk and/or infant formula. But babies’ iron stores go down as they grow. And by around six months, they can’t get the iron they need from breastmilk or infant formula alone.
Introducing solids is also important for helping babies learn to eat, giving them experience of new tastes and textures from a range of foods. It develops their teeth and jaws, and it builds other skills that they’ll need later for language development.
Signs that it’s time for introducing solids
Your baby’s individual 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, by looking at what’s on your plate
- reaches out for your food
- opens their mouth when you offer them food on a spoon.
Most babies start to show these signs by around six months, but the signs happen at different times for different babies.
It’s not recommended to introduce solids before four months.
Getting the timing right when introducing solids
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. They’ll still have space in their tummies for new foods after they’ve had a feed of breastmilk or formula.
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 they see you getting their food ready
- leaning towards you while they’re sitting in the highchair
- opening their mouth as you’re about to feed them.
Signs your baby is no longer interested include:
- turning their head away
- losing interest or getting distracted
- pushing the spoon away
- clamping their 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 according to your baby’s appetite. By 12 months, your baby should be eating around three small meals a day plus breastmilk or infant formula.
Food texture when introducing solids
When your baby is ready for solids, first foods might be smooth, mashed or in soft pieces, depending on what baby likes. Your baby can quickly go on to minced foods and then chopped foods.
Your baby needs a variety of food textures. This helps your baby learn how to chew, and chewing helps with speech development. It also helps to encourage self-feeding and prevent feeding difficulties as your baby develops.
By the time your baby is 12 months old, they should be eating the same foods that the rest of the family is eating. But you might still need to chop some foods into smaller pieces and cook vegetables until they’re soft.
To prevent choking, always supervise babies and young children while they’re eating solid food. Take special care with hard foods like nuts and meat with small bones, because these are choking hazards. And if your baby can move around, make sure baby is sitting down while they’re eating. If you sit with your baby while they’re eating, baby is less likely to move around.
Food types when introducing solids
All new foods are exciting for your baby – there’s no need to cook ‘special’ foods.
You can also introduce solids in any order, as long as you include iron-rich foods and the food is the right texture.
Iron-rich foods include:
- iron-fortified infant cereal
- minced meat, poultry and fish
- cooked tofu and legumes
- mashed, cooked egg (don’t give raw or runny egg).
To these iron-rich foods, you can add other healthy foods like:
- vegetables – for example, cooked potato, carrot or green vegetables like broccoli
- fruit – for example, banana, apple, melon or avocado
- grains – for example, oats, bread, rice and pasta
- dairy foods – for example, yoghurt and full-fat cheese.
You can mix first foods together – there’s no need to introduce just one food at a time. And if you offer your baby a variety of foods, baby can try lots of new tastes and also get a range of nutrients.
Our tips for introducing solid foods explain how to get your baby interested in new foods and manage mealtime mess and play.
Breastmilk and infant formula while introducing solids
Keep breastfeeding or using infant formula until at least 12 months, as well as introducing solids.
If you’re not sure whether your baby is getting the right amount of milk once they start solids, baby’s behaviour will tell you.
For example, if your baby has been eating plenty of solids and isn’t finishing or is refusing milk, they might be ready for less frequent but larger milk feeds each day. If your baby isn’t interested in solids, they might be too full from milk feeds. This means it might be time to reduce milk feeds.
By around nine months, babies have generally developed enough chewing and swallowing skills to move from having milk before solids to having milk after solids.
Solids don’t replace breastfeeding or infant formula. If solid food replaces breastmilk and/or infant formula too quickly, babies can miss out on important nutrition.
Once your baby has reached six months, you can start to offer baby cooled, boiled water in a cup at mealtimes or at other times during the day. This is so your baby can practise drinking from a cup, but baby still doesn’t really need fluids other than breastmilk or formula at this age. Once your baby has reached 12 months, you can offer fresh tap water without boiling it.
Foods and drinks to avoid while introducing solids
There are some foods to avoid until your baby is a certain age:
- honey until 12 months – this is to avoid the risk of infant botulism
- raw or runny eggs and foods containing raw eggs like home-made mayonnaise until 12 months – bacteria in raw eggs can be harmful to babies
- reduced-fat dairy until two years
- whole nuts and similar hard foods until three years – these are choking hazards.
There are some drinks to avoid until your baby is a certain age:
- pasteurised full-fat cow’s milk as a main drink until 12 months
- soy milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk until two years (you can give fortified soy products before two years old)
- rice, oat, almond or coconut milk until two years old, unless you’ve consulted with your GP or child and family health nurse
- unpasteurised milk of all types, tea, coffee or sugar-sweetened drinks at all ages
- fruit juice – this should be limited at all ages (fruit has the nutrients baby needs).
Your baby doesn’t need added salt or sugar. Processed or packaged foods with high levels of fat, sugar and/or salt aren’t good for babies and children. These foods include cakes, biscuits, chips and fried foods.
Food allergy and introducing solids
Introducing allergenic foods early can reduce the risk of your child developing food allergy.
All babies, including babies with a high allergy risk, should try solid foods that cause allergies from around six months of age. These foods include well-cooked egg, peanut butter, wheat (from wheat-based breads, cereals and pasta) and cow’s milk (but not as a main drink).
- your baby already has a food allergy
- your family has a history of food allergy and you’re concerned about starting solids
- you’re worried about reactions to foods.
Babies with severe eczema or who have parents with food allergies are more likely to develop a food allergy. But most children with food allergy don’t have parents with food allergy.