Introducing solids: why your baby needs them
As your baby gets older, she starts to need solid food so she 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 his body from when he was in the womb. He also gets some iron from breastmilk and/or infant formula. But your baby’s iron stores go down as he grows. And by around six months, he can’t get the iron he needs from breastmilk or infant formula alone.
Introducing solids is also important for helping your baby learn to eat, giving her experience of new tastes and textures from a range of foods, developing her teeth and jaws, and building other skills that she’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 his mouth when you offer him food on a spoon.
Most babies start to show these signs around six months, but the signs happen at different times for different babies.
It’s not recommended to introduce solids before four 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 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 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 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.
How to introduce solids: food texture
When your baby is ready for solids, her first foods might be smooth, mashed or in soft pieces, depending on what she likes. She can quickly go on to minced foods and then chopped foods.
Your baby needs a variety of food textures. This helps him 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 your baby develops.
By the time your baby is 12 months old, she should be eating food with the same texture as the food the rest of the family is eating.
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 he’s sitting down while he’s eating. If you sit with your baby while he’s eating, he’s less likely to move around.
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.
Iron-rich foods include:
- iron-fortified infant rice 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 or carrot
- fruit – for example, banana, apple, melon or avocado
- grains – for example, wheat, oats, bread 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, she can try lots of new tastes and also get plenty of nutrients.
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 he starts solids, his behaviour will tell you.
For example, if your baby has been eating plenty of solids and isn’t finishing or is refusing her milk, she might be ready for less frequent but larger milk feeds each day. If your baby isn’t interested in solids, she might be too full from milk feeds. This means it might be time to reduce milk feeds.
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 him cooled, boiled water in a cup at mealtimes or at other times during the day. But fluids other than breastmilk or formula aren’t really needed at this age.
Foods and drinks to avoid while introducing solids
There are some foods to avoid until your baby is a certain age:
- honey until he’s 12 months old
- raw or runny eggs and foods containing raw eggs like home-made mayonnaise until he’s 12 months
- 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.
There are some drinks to avoid until your baby is a certain age:
- pasteurised full-fat cow’s milk as baby’s main drink until she’s 12 months old
- soy milk, goat’s milk and sheep’s milk until she’s two years old (you can give fortified soy products before two years old)
- rice, oat, almond or coconut milk until she’s two years old unless you’ve consulted with your GP or child and family health nurse
- unpasteurised milk of all types, fruit juice, tea, coffee or sugar-sweetened drinks at all ages.
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
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.
Introducing solids before four months or after about six months increases your baby’s risk of developing food allergy.
It’s a good idea to get advice from your GP, child and family health nurse, dietitian, paediatrician or allergy and immunology specialist if:
- your baby already has a food allergy
- your family has a history of food allergy
- you’re worried about reactions to foods.
If your baby has a high risk of food allergies, you can also introduce one new food at a time. This can help with identifying allergic reactions.
All babies, including babies with a high allergy risk, should try solid foods that cause allergies in the first year of life. This includes well-cooked egg before the age of 8 months and peanut butter before the age of 12 months. Introducing allergenic foods early can actually reduce the risk of your child developing food allergy.
Practical tips for introducing solids
Here are practical tips to get you and your baby started with solid foods.
- Choose a time when you and your baby are calm and relaxed.
- Wash hands, spoons, bowls and plates before eating or preparing food. There’s no need to sterilise anything.
- Sit your baby in a highchair, or somewhere safe, and feed her the food on a spoon. Or you could offer her a small piece with your fingers.
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.
- Feed your baby during family meals each day, if you can. Your baby might be more interested in food if the rest of the family is eating too.
- Be guided by your baby’s interest and appetite levels. It’s normal for your baby’s appetite to change from day to day but this averages out over several days.
- If your baby refuses a new food, just offer it again tomorrow. Sometimes babies and children need to try new foods more than 10 times before they accept them.
It’s normal for babies to make funny faces when they try new foods. If your baby makes a face, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t like the food.
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 his 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.