What are the latest guidelines?
There’s so much information about when to introduce solid foods to babies that it’s easy to become confused. And everyone has their own opinion about when this should happen. But when deciding what advice to follow about important things, evidence should always be the basis for making up our minds.
Signs that your baby is ready for solid foods
- When your baby can sit unsupported and hold their head up.
- When your baby is longer satisfied with milk alone in their diet.
- When your baby starts waking up again overnight and they seem hungry.
- When they can transfer food from the front of their mouth and tongue to the back and swallow.
- When your baby seems interested in what you’re eating.
First foods to try
There are no rules to follow when it comes to offering foods in a particular order. However, by around six months of age a baby’s iron stores are starting to deplete which is why iron rich foods need to be offered first. There is a risk of iron deficiency anaemia occurring if there is a delay in the introduction of solid food and a baby is fed on milk alone beyond six months.
Iron fortified rice cereal, pureed meat and chicken, cooked tofu, legumes/beans are all good sources of iron. Dairy foods can also be offered e.g. full fat yoghurt, cheese and custard.
Avoid offering sweet foods which can lead to preferences developing and your baby not being interested in more savoury tastes.
Purees are ideal to begin with as they are easy to swallow, and babies tend to accept them readily. But it’s important to move on from purees to foods with more texture between 6-12 months of age. Delaying the introduction of lumps and mashed foods can lead to the baby refusing to swallow any textured foods.
What foods can’t my baby have?
Cow’s milk as a main milk source should not be given before 12 months of age. Breast milk or formula are the ideal milks for babies in their first year of life.
When can my baby feed themselves?
Every baby will develop and grow in their own unique way. Some are keen, almost from their first exposure to solid foods, to want to try and feed themselves. When your baby is showing interest and grabbing the spoon, give them one to practice with. It can take a little while for babies to learn the skills in scooping up food and getting it into their mouth.
Finger foods are a great way to support independence.
Safety and solid food
- Always strap your baby into their highchair with a harness. Preferably a five point one.
- Always supervise your baby when they are eating. Choking can happen very quickly, and you need to be present to ensure your baby’s safety. Remember, gagging is noisy, choking is silent. Check here for information on how to manage choking.
- Hard, small foods which could lead to choking can’t be offered. Nuts and honey should not be given.
- Avoid blowing on your baby’s food to cool it or tasting it before offering it. The bacteria which cause tooth decay are easily transferred via saliva. If you have active decay, you’re likely to pass this onto your baby. Check the temperature of the food on your wrist instead.
5 Golden Rules for Solid Foods
Let your baby make a mess. This is an important part of the learning experiences associated with eating.
Remember that your job is to plan, prepare and cook their food. What they eat and how much they eat is up to them.
Only offer your baby healthy food choices. Foods which are high in sugar, fat and processed ingredients won’t support your baby to grow and develop as they need to.
Where possible, cook fresh food for your baby. It will be healthier and taste better than the bought variety.
Avoid offering your baby pouch food all the time. Though convenient, pouches don’t allow for the baby to smell, see or choose what they want to eat. And pouch foods tend to be smooth purees which don’t support chewing.
But she won’t try anything new!
Babies are naturally suspicious about new foods. Many nutritionists believe that babies need to be exposed to a new, as yet untasted food 10-12 times before they will give it a try. Don’t invest too much emotion into your baby’s food preferences. They will quickly learn that this is a lovely way to get attention. Stay calm, give it a go and just be matter of fact about whether your baby eats or not.
It can help to break down the stages of eating into first encouraging the baby to touch, then pick up and look at the food. Eventually, over a period of time they are likely to bring the food to their mouth to taste and eat it.
Try not to let your own food preferences dictate what you offer your baby. Don’t assume they’ll prefer the foods you do. Every baby has their own unique tastes.
Aim to offer your baby new foods a couple of times each week. Fruits and vegetables contain different micronutrients – a hint, different colours are a guide to how much they vary. It’s important to ensure your baby has variety in their diet.
Role modelling and solid foods
- Show your baby what’s involved in healthy eating. Let them see you making healthy food choices.
- Position their highchair next to the table and aim to eat together as a family.
- Turn off all mobile phones and digital devices during mealtimes.
- Make the people and the food the focus of the meal.
- Encourage your baby to be part of the joy of eating. Share food from your plate and encourage them to try new things.
- Don’t invest too much energy into what your baby eats. Unless there are problems with their growth and/or development, let them make their own independent choices about what they want to eat.
- Avoid offering your baby too much milk to drink if you’re worried about their food intake. Milk is a food and can displace a baby’s appetite for real food.
- Until around nine months of age, offer milk before solid foods. After nine months, you can reverse this order and offer solid foods first.
- Always brush your baby’s teeth before they go to bed. Tooth decay occurs more frequently at night when there is a slowing down of saliva flow.
Follow your baby’s lead when it comes to eating.
Signs that they’re still interested in eating
- Leaning forward in their highchair and opening their mouth.
- Swallowing the food already in their mouth.
- Reaching for the spoon and food.
- Crying and protesting when you are too slow with the spoon.
Signs that they’re full
- They turn their head away from the spoon.
- Start crying and fussing.
- Stiffen themselves trying to get out of the highchair.
If you’re worried about your baby’s solid food intake
Speak with your child health nurse about ways to encourage your baby to eat solid foods.
Alternately, you can check with an accredited practicing dietician with expertise in babies and children. Most large children’s hospitals have dieticians working in their allied health departments. Alternately, check here for contact information.
Written for Nourish by Jane Barry Midwife and Child Health Nurse