Introducing solids: why your baby needs them
When your baby is around six months old, he needs solid food so he can get enough iron and other essential nutrients for growth and development.
For about the first six months of life, your baby uses iron stored in her body from when she was in the womb. She also gets iron from your breastmilk and/or infant formula. But your baby’s iron stores go down as she grows. And by around six months, she can’t get the iron she needs from breastmilk or infant formula alone.
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
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 her mouth when you offer her food on a spoon.
Most babies start to show these signs at 4-6 months, but the signs happen at different times for different babies. Your baby’s individual development and behaviour will guide you when you’re trying to work out when to start introducing solids.
At around six months, but not before four months, you can introduce a variety of solid foods, making sure to include iron-rich foods. 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 GP.
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. They’ll still have room to try 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 he sees you getting his food ready
- leaning towards you while he’s sitting in the highchair
- opening his mouth as you’re about to feed him.
Signs your baby is no longer interested include:
- turning her head away
- losing interest or getting distracted
- pushing the spoon away
- clamping her 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.
How to introduce solids: food texture
Your baby should have pureed food when you start introducing solids. He can quickly go on to mashed foods, then minced and chopped foods. Your baby can usually manage finger food like pieces of cooked vegetables, soft fruit and soft bread crusts or toast when he’s eight months old.
Between six and eight months it’s important for your baby to go from smooth to lumpy textures and on to finger foods. This helps her learn how to chew, and chewing helps with your baby’s speech development. It also helps to encourage self-feeding and prevent feeding difficulties as she develops.
By the time your baby is 12 months old, he can start eating food with the same texture as the food the rest of the family is eating.
Always supervise babies and young children when they’re eating solid food. Take care with hard foods like nuts and meat with small bones, because these are choking hazards. Sitting with your baby while she’s eating not only helps to prevent choking
. It also encourages social interaction and helps your baby learn about eating.
How to introduce solids: food types
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.
For example, you could try iron-fortified infant rice cereal, soft cooked vegetables and stewed or mashed fruit. Then you can try mashed foods like eggs, grains like wheat, cooked fish, pureed or minced meat, and more fruits and vegetables. You can also try tofu, beans, lentils, smooth nut pastes and so on.
You can mix first foods together – there’s no need to introduce just one food at a time. But if you have a family history of food allergies, 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
- fruit – for example, banana, apple, melon or avocado
- wheat, oats, bread, rice and pasta
- dairy foods like yoghurt and full-fat cheese
- meat, fish, pork, legumes and cooked egg, but not raw or runny egg.
Keep breastfeeding or using infant formula until at least 12 months, as well as introducing solids. After 12 months, your baby can have pasteurised full-fat cow’s milk from a cup.
There are some foods you should avoid giving your baby until he’s a certain age. Avoid:
- honey until he’s 12 months old
- cow’s milk, goat’s milk and soy milk until he’s 12 months old
- reduced-fat dairy until he’s two years old
- whole nuts and similar hard foods until he’s three years old – these are choking hazards
- unpasteurised milk, fruit juice, tea, coffee or sugar-sweetened drinks at all ages.
It takes time and patience for your baby to learn to eat and enjoy different foods. 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.
Once your baby has reached six months, you can supplement breastmilk or infant formula with small amounts of cooled, boiled water. It’s best to offer your baby water in a cup.
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 her risk of developing food allergy.
It’s a good idea to get advice from your GP, child and family health nurse, dietitian, paediatrician or allergist if:
- your baby already has a food allergy
- your family has a history of food allergy
- you’re worried about reactions to foods.
The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) infant feeding guidelines say that all babies, including babies with a high allergy risk, should be given allergenic solid foods including peanut butter, cooked egg, dairy and wheat products in the first year of life. Introducing allergenic solid foods can actually protect your child against developing an allergy.
Practical tips for introducing solids
When you’re thinking about introducing solids, the main thing is to puree iron-rich food to start with, and then increase the texture to mashed or soft pieces over the next couple of weeks. Offer finger foods by around eight months.
Here are more practical tips to get you and your baby started.
- Choose a time when you and your baby are calm and relaxed.
- Sit your baby in a highchair, or somewhere safe, and feed him the food on a spoon. Or you could offer him a small piece with your fingers.
- Look for signs your baby isn’t interested or isn’t hungry anymore. This tells you she’s had enough.
Tips to get your baby interested
- Offer foods that your baby is interested in – that is, foods that baby is reaching for or looking at.
- Give your baby a spoon to practise with as well.
- Talk with your baby about the food he’s eating – what it is, its colour, its taste, where it grows, and 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 enjoy healthy foods together as a family.
- Follow your baby’s interest and appetite levels. These might not be the same from day to day and will grow over time. Build up to offering three meals a day plus snacks.
Your baby doesn’t need added salt or sugar. Processed or packaged foods with high levels of fat, sugar and/or salt – for example, cakes, biscuits, chips and fried foods – aren’t good for babies and children.
Mealtime mess and play
You can expect your baby’s eating 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 skills in other areas of her development, like fine motor skills and thinking.
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.
You can make cleaning up easier by spreading newspaper or plastic under the highchair and having a washcloth handy.
Introducing solids is about much more than just food! It’s also a great time to talk, listen and bond with each other.